• August 21, 2019

County exploring financial incentives for jailers - Odessa American: Local News

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County exploring financial incentives for jailers

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Posted: Monday, July 15, 2019 5:03 pm

Another pay raise could be in the cards for law enforcement officers.

The jailer shortage in Ector County has pushed county commissioners to consider offering additional financial incentives to attract applicants for the Ector County Law Enforcement Center.

County officials discussed implementing a jailer sign-on bonus for full-time employees as well as $500 referral perks during a Commissioners’ Court meeting last week, but the item was tabled after further dialogue predicted numerous loopholes and complications.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Simmons said the county would have needed to consider a hiring bonus of up to $5,000 to make the position attractive to applicants.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Eddy Shelton said current employees in the jail could have been aggravated by not having such an offer extended to them.

Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis said the county would likely no longer pursue a hiring bonus for jailers in order to eliminate any tension that could arise from current jailers who are unable to reap the benefits of a sign-on bonus. He said the next best option could include another raise to keep pay fair between current employees and new hires.

“But nothing is set in stone,” Griffis said.

Current Ector County jailer applications advertise a starting pay of $20.20 an hour, but Griffis said he would like to see that rate bumped up to $25 an hour to entice more people to apply.

Filling vacancies has been an ongoing obstacle for the county and Griffis said he has about 30 jailer positions vacant now despite law enforcement officers already receiving a 16 percent pay increase this budget cycle.

While a hiring bonus would have taken place this fiscal year, any changes made to wages would not go into effect until the 2020 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

The sheriff’s office is relying on more funding to make ends meet in 2020 through the Ector County Assistance District approved by voters in November.

The assistance district has exceeded expectations since it went into effect April 1 and the county has received payments totaling $3.7 million to date from the state. The funds collected from the consumption tax are eligible to be used for items ranked as priorities by residents such as law enforcement.

Preliminary discussions between commissioners and county department heads were completed last week to go over budget requests for next year. Part of the budget request submitted by the sheriff’s office asked to set aside money for about 30 additional hires on top of existing vacancies to meet required jailer-to-inmate ratios once the ECLEC expansion is open.

The sheriff said he will need to have those extra personnel accounted for in the budget regardless if they remain vacant to even consider utilizing the jail’s 60,000 square foot addition, which will add 412 beds at the facility and reduce outsourcing costs for Ector County.

Griffis said there is still much that is subject to change before the county’s jail expansion is ready for use. The project was originally scheduled to be completed by the end of October but has now fallen slightly behind and projections are showing construction will be finished by early November.

Ector County Building Maintenance Director Charlie Pierce said construction snags mostly impacted the jail’s kitchen renovation due to having to find a new electrical contractor.

The first deadline for the kitchen renovation was set for October 2018 before weather delays held progress back, now Pierce said the kitchen should be done by Sept. 1.

Pierce said he plans to provide commissioners with a full report on the happenings at ECLEC in the next month.

Other concerns that remains on the sheriff’s radar are related to turnover and how jailers are trained.

Griffis said initial investments made to hire an employee for the jail can cost the county at least $500 for items like physical exams on top of expenses taken on for those individuals to become certified jailers, which can costs hundreds of dollars more with limited reimbursement options.

“If they don’t stay at least six months, then it’s not worth our time,” he said.

The OA previously reported that county jailers at the ECLEC are sent to training around eight months after being hired by the sheriff’s office, close to the one-year deadline, to allow for a higher retention rate at ECSO.

Two Texas House bills introduced during the 86th legislative session could change the timeframe in which those requirements must be completed.

HB 2467 would change the requirement period for temporary county jailers to complete their required training program from one year to 90 days, and if a person failed to complete the required training, they will be removed from the position. HB 3775 tacks on that the preparatory training must consist of at least eight hours of mental health training.

“It’s certainly going to put some jails in a bind, including ourselves,” Griffis said.

The Texas Legislature’s website states HB 3775 was left pending in committee as of March and HB 2467 has not yet been voted on by the House.

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