But county commissioners did add one new deputy to the staff — an idea spurred by Commissioner Dennis DeWitt during last week’s budget meeting.
Judge David Silva, after Monday’s budget hearing, said, “I think the one new deputy they get is a step forward.”
Commissioner Carlos Salazar proposed the idea of cutting the jailers on behalf of the county judge, who had a medical appointment at the same time as the court’s budget meeting on Aug. 11.
Earlier this year, the court approved adding 12 jailers to the county staff because of concerns that the jail would fall out of compliance with state regulations.
This cut of four as yet unfilled positions was a concern for DeWitt.
“We need to remember that we did that because we were running afoul of the regulations on the number of people that should be on the jail floor, and we could lose our accreditation.”
Salazar said that this proposal was a way to ensure that the budget was balanced and that the county employees retained their raise.
Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez said, “I would rather do that than cut employees’ salaries.”
DeWitt, although he wasn’t advocating cutting the salaries, said, “I just hate to get rid of positions we just approved. We had a good reason to do it, and now we are saying that reason wasn’t valid.”
Rodriguez interjected, “We are not saying it wasn’t valid. We are saying the money might not be there, and we could use that money better.”
During last week’s meeting, after the cuts to the jail occurred, DeWitt proposed the idea of giving the sheriff’s office an additional deputy.
Sheriff staff had pleaded with the court previously for more deputies, citing an increase in traffic and population recently.
They had hoped for two more deputies, a sergeant, a dispatcher and an investigator.
That amount is minor considering what it would take to equal the state average per capita — 48 deputies.
Silva, on Monday, said, “There is no way we can sustain 48 deputies.”
It takes about $60,000 to cover the cost of pay and equipment for each deputy, he said.
Now that the court has agreed to fund the positions, it is up the sheriff’s office to find the employees for the jail.
Lt. Ronnie Jones, with the sheriff’s office, said that they are working to fill the vacant positions in the jail, but they are still having problems competing with the oil field.
“We have not filled all the positions,” he said. “We have filled a lot, but we are still trying to get all the positions filled.”
His concern was that with a limited number of positions, they would still need part-time help. New regulations associated with Obamacare make it impractical to work part-timers beyond 24 hours which is how the jail previously handled their shortage of employees.
This leads to another problem.
The county’s budget is balanced — all the money coming in is allocated.
“We have no wiggle room,” the judge said. “Let’s be judicious.”
This means that if any department goes over budget, the funds could have to come from the reserve balance — something the judge has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to do.
“We are just hoping the sales tax will give us some wiggle room,” the judge said.
District Clerk Zenaida Silva said that she understood the problems facing the jail but that the court must look at the bigger picture.
“I realize that law enforcement is our backbone but so are county employees,” she said.
She has seen many a county employee leave for higher pay—something a proposed raise for employees would help curtail.
“As soon as they get an offer they take off,” she said. “A lot of times they come back, but a lot of times they don’t.
“Just don’t cut salaries. Salaries are very important. That is a way of life.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 343-5221, or at editor@mySouTex.com.