Commissioner Dennis DeWitt said, “We have an emergency situation in our jail.
“We are real close to running afoul of some state regulations on the number of jailers we have on duty at one time.”
With a unanimous vote, commissioners increased the salary of jailers about $4,000 from $23K to $27K.
County Judge David Silva issued a stern warning.
“I want y’all to know that we know you won’t be able to recruit all these 12 tomorrow,” Silva said. “But I do want you guys to watch that bottom line.
“This is a whole bunch of money.
“It is almost $500,000.
“Your department is the biggest department we have. It is in the millions.
“Now you want more. We want more.
“Make it work.”
The $500,000 Silva referenced included a payout of compensatory time accumulated by jailers that has occurred over the years.
Commissioner Carlos Salazar questioned this payout.
“Why do we want to do that?” he said.
“We need to get that off the books,” DeWitt said.
“We already owe the comp time. Let’s start off with zero.”
Silva added, “That is one of the things that was weighing on us.”
Dolores “Chach” Rodriguez, who heads the jail division, said that it is cheaper to pay out the jailers now than wait until after their raises.
“If they leave when they get the raise, they will get that much more comp time,” she said.
Where does this money come from?
Well, it will have to come from reserves, which is why the situation must be declared an emergency. That is the easiest and one of the only ways the county could pull unbudgeted money into the budget.
The county currently has about $3.839 million in reserves which is about six months of reserves to run the county in an emergency.
Salazar sounded concerned that the increase to the salaries would not be enough to lure quality candidates away from the current jobs.
Of note is that the increase to $27,000 was only for those who have obtained their jailer certification. All others will start at about $23K with the additional money coming when they are certified.
“Do you think you will be able to recruit at $23,000?” Salazar asked.
Commissioner Ken Haggard said, “I think the $4,000 bonus there takes care of some of that.”
Lt. Ronnie Jones, with the sheriff’s office, agreed that the money would help their recruiting.
“It is a step,” he said.
Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez reminded that this raise was just the first step.
“We are trying to implement a pay scale, for everyone,” he said. “This way they can see up the line that it is not a dead-end job.”
This raise puts Bee County jailers closer to other counties.
In Texas, the average jailer’s salary is about $35,000, according to the last year’s Bureau of Labor statistics.
No one criticized the raise though, saying that Bee County leaders are doing what they can with limited resources.
“They are doing an awesome job of getting us out of a bind,” Jones said.
No one doubts that more money would likely attract more candidates, but Bee coffers only hold so much.
“You can only do what you can do,” Jones said.
The question arises frequently in court meetings just why the jail cannot get fully staffed.
At issue is the competitive market.
Eagle Ford has attracted so many of the working population that it makes it difficult to hire jailers.
“You can drive a truck and make $60,000,” Jones said.
With the cost of living skyrocketing for those who rent, the additional Eagle Ford money can be tempting.
“The cost of living here has gone through the roof,” Jones said.
He highlighted that apartments once going for $350 per month now are $800 or more.
This struggle with staffing has been ongoing now for months, probably years.
“There is a minimal amount of staff at any given time,” Jones said.
In order to remain in compliance with jail standards, the county has had to do whatever was necessary.
“We were augmenting our full-time staff with part time,” he said.
The passage of ObamaCare has put a stop to that because it limits the amount of hours that part-time employees can work before they must be covered under insurance.
To avoid any issues, the county has mandated that employees not work more than 24 hours per week.
“Chach” Rodriguez said that she believes the additional money will make it easier to hire.
Her preference has always been full-time employees because of the difficulty in scheduling the part-timers.
“We have to accommodate their schedules,” she said.
“Half of them can only work weekends or at night,” she said.
Jones and “Chach” Rodriguez hope to fill the vacant positions quickly.
“It is a great place to work,” Jones said. “We are like a big family.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.