Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd let commissioners know how unhappy he was with the budget they were set to adopt at the Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday, Aug. 24.
The county’s justices of the peace also made an appearance — their third — to discuss moving their clerks from level 60 to level 68 in the county organizational chart. Commissioners voted to promote four clerks from 60 to 62 as part of the fiscal year 2021-22 budget adjustments. The $23,000 necessary to pay for that upgrade will come from the county’s unallocated budget.
Following the justices of the peace, Boyd stepped up to the microphone to address the court just before the vote to approve the budget.
“Why are you punishing my guys?” he asked, referring to sheriff’s deputies, who he says will receive $50 less in their paychecks every two weeks when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
“They are not being punished,” County Judge James Oakley replied, insisting that the $50 would remain in the paychecks because that particular pay plan was grandfathered.
The disagreement seemed to come down to semantics: What is the difference between pay scale and longevity pay?
“Y’all approved a pay scale two years ago, and we couldn’t really fund it,” Boyd said. “So, as a Bandaid, we gave the guys $1,300 a year, which was $50 a paycheck. But for that, we said we are going to take your longevity pay away. They said OK.”
Oakley countered that the fix was only for one year and officers were being paid longevity but in a different way than other county employees, who receive their money in a lump sum. Other county employees, some of whom work for the sheriff’s office, also receive longevity pay, but much less.
“It didn’t say for one year,” Boyd said. “Who approves a pay scale for one year? We went to the HR committee and agreed we needed a higher pay scale to keep our guys.”
The Burnet County Sheriff’s Office does not pay as much as neighboring counties to the east, Boyd said. Williamson County pays deputies $80,000 a year compared to the $50,000 average in Burnet County.
“You’re now going to roll them into longevity, and for someone that gets $2,000 for their longevity at the beginning of the year, our guys only get $700,” Boyd said. “I’m going to have to go to my guys and say, ‘You are going to have $50 taken out of your pay each check from now on.’ I am going to tell you right now that longevity will not keep our officers.”
“The way I see it, the officers are going to be getting more in the third year and more and more each year up to the 15th year,” he said. “When longevity surpasses the pay scale, they get more.”
What caused the ruckus is that the county opted to adopt the state’s longevity plan. Cities are required to have a time-served plan for employees, but counties are not. Since some of the county’s employees — district judges and county prosecutor’s office staff — are already on the state plan, commissioners went with that.
The state’s longevity plan kicks in after an employee has been with the county two years. It’s based on months of service. If an employee has worked at least 24 months by Oct. 1, they will receive $20 per month, or $480, in one lump sum sometime in November. After three years, the lump sum is $720; after four years, $960. By the fifth year, it’s $1,200.
Oakley explained that the deputies already receive $1,300 a year for longevity. That amounts to just over $100 a month after one year rather than two. Officers already on the payroll will continue to receive the $50 a month in their paychecks up until the fifth year, when they will be rolled into the time-served plan.
“With this plan, it continues to go up after the fifth year through the 15th year,” Oakley said. “To keep the old plan would be to lock it in at $1,300.”
Bottom line for Oakley is to get all county employees on the same compensation plan.
“If pay is the issue, then we can have a discussion about pay grade,” Oakley told Boyd.
“We’ve been talking about that for years,” Boyd said.
After about 30 minutes of discussion, Boyd thanked the commissioners and left.
“We’ve been going around and around, and you don’t agree with me and I don’t agree with you,” Boyd said. “I think this is unfair, but I’m not going to convince you different.”
After the meeting, Oakley said that deputies would receive their same pay and longevity, adding that, for the first five years of employment, they are paid more than other county employees, depending on their pay group.
“I think the sheriff has the viewpoint that they should get both: the $50 and the longevity plan,” he said, “but there was never a scenario where money is being taken away from them.”
The budget was approved unanimously as was the tax rate of $0.3997 per $100 valuation, down from last year’s $0.3999 per $100 valuation.