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Commissioners back changes in pay schedule for Sheriff’s officers

Wednesday, July 27, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Big changes are afoot at the Travis County Sheriff’s Department.


The Travis Commissioners voted on Tuesday to change the way officers in the Sheriff’s Department will be paid. Their action, which will cost the county $3.5 million, returns the department to a seven-day pay period.


That news came as Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton revealed that his fiscal year 2012 budget would include a request for nearly 60 new officers. If approved, that bump in personnel would cost the county about $6 million.


Hamilton told In Fact Daily that the change in pay schedule represents a positive move.


Hamilton told In Fact Daily that the change in pay schedule represents a positive move. He noted that if any of his officers need to take emergency or sick leave, and thus have to miss a day of work, they lose overtime for that pay period. He also said that Sheriff’s officers sometimes are forced into off days because of scheduling issues.


 “These individuals don’t want to take off,” he continued.


Officers had been on a 28-day pay schedule. That approach allows supervisors to spread work hours and leave over a month-long cycle. The county initially chose the method to save money. Ultimately, however, it caused frustration, and cost officers in terms of time off and overtime pay.


Major Phyllis Clair illustrated the need for a change in the department’s pay period. She noted that supervisors have figured out a way to game the 28-day pay period so that they don’t have to pay for some overtime. “Officers who are required to work county-mandated special assignments such as security for elections frequently do not receive overtime pay with a premium,” she said.


The respective heads of the unions that represent Travis officers echoed her sentiments. Travis County Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Association President Sidney Parker told the court that “our men and women of law enforcement have struggled with the 28-day pay cycle for many years.”


County Judge Sam Biscoe was practical. “I put it on the agenda because I thought that we had committed … that when the population reached one million, that we would go back to the seven-day pay period,” he said. “So I think we ought to do it.”


The rest of the court agreed. The motion to change the payroll system passed on a 4-0 will Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt absent.


Returning to the new hires, Hamilton noted that these would be split evenly between the corrections and enforcement divisions of his department. During the hearing, Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Jim Sylvester illustrated the problem for the court.


“The easiest (example) I can give you is what happened over the Fourth of July weekend,” he said. “We had three people drown in Lake Travis and we had a homicide,” he said. “We only have a handful of detectives, so all of those folks are soaking up overtime, and then…within a week our suspect is in North Dakota and we had to send our officers to North Dakota to do an interview and come back.


“We had all of these officers working overtime and draining the overtime budget,” he said.


Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis recognized the need to offer more time off for Sheriff’s officers. “In the long run, I just think that we really need to look at ways to address that relief effort,” he said.


Still, Davis looked to the practicalities involved. He wondered if funds derived from a theoretical cut back on overtime payments could be used to work on “some of these relief factor outcries.”


The court will discuss the Sheriff’s Department’s FY2012 budget on Aug. 15. Hamilton told In Fact Daily that he thought the court “heard us loud and clear.”


“We’ve been asking for this for seven years since I’ve been here, and I think the time is right now,” he added.

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