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DID OFFICIALS INTERPRET BUDGET TALKS DIFFERENTLY?
Frio County Sheriff Mike Morse walked out of a commissioners’ court meeting last week after learning a $50,000 line item that would compensate dispatchers and jailers for overtime had been slashed from his budget.
“This proposed budget does not include the fifty thousand dollars for jailers and dispatchers,” the sheriff said during the Tuesday, September 12, meeting.
Chief Deputy Peter Salinas had presented commissioners with a proposal during a budget workshop that would allow adjustments to the 207(k) exemption, a request for four additional deputies and a $50,000 line item for overtime for the dispatchers and jailers.
The 207(k) exemption allows employers to compute overtime for law enforcement and firefighters on the basis of an extended work schedule. Under 207(k) non exempt law enforcement officers must work 171 hours in 28 days before the employer becomes liable for overtime pay.
“It was our understanding that the overtime was approved; we were just discussing the 207(k),” Salinas told the court. “So when we said, as-is, it was the 207(k). It was never mentioned here that that money was getting stripped. I mean, we do not even know where that money went.”
According to the proposal by Salinas, the sheriff’s office would fund $30,000 of the line item from the asset forfeiture sales and the court would provide the $20,000 difference.
Frio County Judge Rochelle Camacho explained to the sheriff that the court was under the understanding a consensus had been made and the sheriff’s office would not need the overtime line item.
“It was if commissioners’ court approved it,” the judge said. “Eliminating the 207(k) as stated in the last commissioners’ court meeting, it was a consensus that we decided to stay ‘as-is,’ so to stay ‘as-is’ we do not need that budget line item.”
The decision by the court not to approve the overtime pay forces the department to take the extra hours and compute them into compensation time, according to the sheriff’s office. Current county policy allows time-and-a-half for overtime hours in the form of compensation time.
“No disrespect, that is not the way I understood it,” the sheriff said. “I was under the impression that the 207(k) and the fifty thousand in overtime were the proposed budget.”
Judge Camacho said that the court and the sheriff’s office came to an agreement on August 25 that the department would no longer use the 207(k) structure and there would be overtime alongside the compensation of working 80 hours during a 14-day period.
“We were in consensus to agree with that then,” the judge said. “Then we came back on the [September] seventh and there was a different mindset. So the current ‘as-is’ does not include overtime for anyone at all. We all left here with agreement with you all that we were going to stay ‘as-is.’”
Pct. 3 Commissioner Raul Carrizales said he believed the 207(k) exemption and the overtime were separate issues.
“When we said okay we will leave it as-is, it was to keep the 207(k), reduce the comp time hours, keep the flexibility for the 80 to 86 hours to remain,” Camacho said. “The management of your staff would be managed well and we would not see an over-budget. It was not a lack of communication; it is that we all interpret differently.”
The judge said it had been a unanimous decision to use the overtime as a pilot program for the county in its entirety.
“Is that the way all the commissioners understand it?” Sheriff Morse asked.
“My impression was stick with 2079k) and pay the overtime as needed,” Pct. 4 Comm. Danny Cano said. “I will man up and I will stick with it.”
Pct. 2 Comm. Mario Martinez said he recalled the discussion but that the court had asked for a policy from the sheriff’s office for overtime pay.
Morse reminded the court the overtime pay was proposed as an incentive to retain and recruit jailers and dispatchers, and that overtime pay would not be available to deputies.
“Was it approved?” Cano asked County Auditor Crystal Marquez.
“Correct,” the auditor said. “The only issue I had was the auction funds.”
Marquez said that Salinas has proposed using the $30,000 from the asset forfeiture to pay dispatchers, and the $20,000 contributed by the county would be used for jailers.
“He was thinking the opposite way,” Marquez said. “The policy came through in an email, and I believe Ramiro [Trevino, human resources director] sent the policy over to TAC and TAC sent a reply to Ramiro, and I had a conversation with the judge. Now with information we had from Cheraun [Blankenship, human resource consultant, TAC risk management services], at that point the judge said for me to leave it out.”
“She [Blankenship] told me it was totally up to the commissioners’ court,” the sheriff said.
Salinas said the department’s current policy works in accordance with TAC requirements, a claim supported by an email sent to the sheriff on Thursday, Sept. 6, from Blankenship.
Trevino said the 207(k) policy was adopted in 2021 and prescribed a 14-day work period of 86 hours.
“The problem we are running into here is that his policy is stating a fourteen-day, eighty hours,” the human resources director said. “What is going on here, the policy for the county says overtime is comp time. The county has adopted comp time, not money. Problem is, you would have to amend the policy for the whole county. If not, get ready for discrimination lawsuits.”
“As a general whole you want to treat everyone the same,” Frio County Attorney Joseph Sindon said. “As we know, there are some times we have not. Most recently we had election employees who had to work overtime and were granted pay. Bottom line is, you better have a really good reason for doing it and have a rock-solid policy to show how you should implement that. Not saying you can’t do it; you just have a really good reason and an effective policy you follow to the ‘T.’”
“As sheriff, I consider the decision by the county judge and commissioners’ court not to allow our detention staff and emergency dispatchers overtime a real disappointment,” Morse said. “That may seem a bit harsh, but they had the opportunity to allow overtime for these employees, and passed on it. In the future, I hope they realize how important public safety is to the citizens of Frio County, as I sure do.”