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Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd at the first public opening of the renovated historic jail on the courthouse square in Burnet in February. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman
There’s light at the end of the deputy overtime tunnel, Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd recently told DailyTrib.com. As of the end of July, the overtime budget for the Sheriff’s Office was in the red by about $112,000, with another two months still to go.
The Burnet County Commissioners Court was apprised of the situation at its July 23 meeting.
“What we’re asking for is that it be looked at and watched toward the end of the year,” Burnet County Judge James Oakley told DailyTrib.com after the meeting. “We’re not trying to micromanage the sheriff or any other county operation, but at the same time, we must respect state law that says expenditures can’t exceed the approved budget.”
The county also has to abide by federal law, which requires employees be paid for the hours they worked. Period.
The 2021-22 Burnet County budget set aside $45,000 each for for sheriff’s deputies and dispatchers to cover overtime between Oct. 1, 2021, and Sept. 30, 2022. As of July 23, deputies accrued $126,639.81, which is $81,639.81 over budget. Dispatchers accrued $71,659,92 in overtime, which is $26,659.92 over budget.
“There are a lot of things that go into overtime for us,” Boyd said. “Part of it is the nature of the business. We can’t just shut it off and go home.”
However, the reason for the overage is in the process of being resolved.
“We were shorthanded for much of the year, having to cover shifts,” said Boyd, referring to both dispatchers and deputies but especially the latter, “When you get shorthanded on the street, you can’t flex the time out. You can’t take off.”
Flex time is the same as comp time: taking the same numbers of hours off that the person worked in overtime, rather than being paid. The Sheriff’s Office does not have a comp time policy in place but can work it off the books if people are available to cover shifts when others take off.
Vacant positions are being filled, Boyd said, a process that takes time. Three new deputies are graduating from the academy and one is finishing training and soon will be on the street. Dispatchers are in good shape, too.
Boyd has asked for a bigger overtime budget and eight additional deputies for the 2022-23 fiscal year.
“We didn’t budget enough for it in the first place,” he said of the current county budget that is about to end. “But we sure don’t want it to be over $100,000 anytime.”
Last year, he received four of the eight deputies he requested. He is asking for another eight for the coming budget year.
Competing with the higher-paying Travis and Williamson counties for law enforcement officers makes it hard to recruit, Boyd said. And when a deputy is trained then hired away, it costs the county.
“It’s so expensive to put a police officer on the street these days,” he said. “And it’s hard for a young officer to move his family here. It’s expensive to live here.”
Boyd has adopted a new strategy for hiring and training, one he picked up from other law enforcement agencies across the state.
“We are hiring more from the community, finding people who already live here and want to go to the academy,” he said. “We put them through the academy while they are working for us, hoping these homegrown folks will stick around.”
Burnet County commissioners will release a 2022-23 budget to the public by the Aug. 15 deadline, Judge Oakley said. A public hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23, during the regular Commissioners Court meeting. The budget most likely will be adopted after the public hearing. It goes into effect on Oct. 1, 2022, and runs through Sept. 30, 2023.
“We are in a better spot than we’ve been in several years now,” Boyd said. “We’re doing everything we can to keep overtime in line. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”