JEFFERSON — The Marion County Commissioners Court began its budget workshop season for the new fiscal year, entertaining the need for an extra full-time employee in the sheriff’s office to cut down on the increased overtime and to also retain employees.
“There’s a lot of overtime and we’re going to try to compensate that and hire a jailer/dispatcher,” Marion County Judge Leward LaFleur said.
Despite the estimated possible $300,000 deficit at the end of the new fiscal year, the court is optimistic about the welfare of the county as it begins its budgeting season.
“I’ve said it for a long time and I’ll say it again, right here on the record, Marion County is in fine shape for the shape she’s in,” Judge LaFleur said. “There are very few counties in this part of Texas that have zero debts.”
Looking at the wish list, which included proposed raises, Commissioner Joe McKnight disapproved since the department heads didn’t show up to address their wants.
“We’ve got a want list here. If you’re on the want list, you need to be here and tell us something,” McKnight said.
McKnight said since insurance has gone up for the county he’s not entertaining a salary increase. About 60 employees are on the health insurance. County officials anticipate insurance to increase about 5.5 percent.
“We furnish insurance; there’s your pay raise,” he said.
Currently, the sheriff’s office has two jailers and a jailer/dispatcher per shift.
“We are looking to add another full-time jailer,” said LaFleur.
The county judge said Sheriff David McKnight made a good point about the need to hire a full-time employee versus a part-time one who won’t be committed due to the part-time pay.
“The sheriff made a good point that it’s hard to find people that will work in a hostile environment in any jail (for part-time pay),” he said.
“We’re certainly not immune to the issues of jails that surrounding counties are facing with retention and pay,” the county judge added.
“People in West Texas are laid off from the oilfield and come over to work for county jails and then leave to return to the oilfield (when business picks back up) and we don’t have invested employees,” he said.
Hiring a full-time jail employee would at least drop the overtime down to $50,000, the court hopes.
Pct. 2 County Commissioner Joe McKnight said the full-time jail employee is something he’s willing to agree to.
“It’s something we’re going to have to do to keep from getting in trouble,” he said. “I don’t know if it’ll save us from overtime. If it does, we’re in good shape.”
County Treasurer Terrie Neuville agreed that something has to be done.
“Right now, you’ve got dispatchers working 12-hour shifts, several days a week,” said Neuville. “We’ve had some that had 60 hours overtime and paid them.”
“When you start working people like that, they start getting tired; they start getting tired, they start making mistakes. And you don’t want mistakes in the jail,” the treasurer said.
Judge LaFleur concurred.
“You can’t afford mistakes in the jail,” the judge said.
County Auditor Shanna Solomon agreed that a full-time employee may be the solution to control the overtime.
“If you hire a new employee, you’re paying them regular pay as opposed to paying these people time-in-a-half,” she said. Plus, “You have a better chance at keeping them if you just go ahead and give them a full-time position because most part-time people want full-time pay.”
Neuville, the county treasurer, convinced McKnight to see her need to increase her part-time assistant’s pay.
“You have a part-time person that’s doing a full-time job,” she said, asking for an increase of $4,839.
“Sometimes I feel like y’all don’t realize what my office does,” Neuville insisted, noting she does more than just payroll.
Solomon, the county auditor, said her department benefits from the part-time assistant’s help too. Neuville said she’s the only department head that didn’t have any help until her part-time assistant came.
McKnight said he won’t make any promises, but would consider it.
“I would rather sit here and talk about something like that that’s justified,” he said.
“You know we talk about times changing. We talk about that with road and bridge changing, but it’s also changing in your office too,” he told the treasurer. “Used to I’d say you don’t even need the extra help. Time’s changing.”