Llano County Sheriff’s Office struggles with understaffing, inmate housing
A little more than $60,000 was allotted to the Llano County Sheriff’s Office to cover payroll overages and inmate housing during the Llano County Commissioners Court meeting Monday, Sept. 26. Sheriff William Blackburn cited staffing shortages and new bond legislation as causes for the excess expenses.
When requesting the money, Blackburn told commissioners that his department is currently short four jailers, two deputies, and two dispatchers. These shortages led to 1,043 hours in compensatory time for jailers, 633 hours for deputies, and 122 hours for dispatchers.
An amount of $34,246.85 was moved from the county’s non-departmental miscellaneous fringe benefits fund to cover the cost of the accrued compensatory time and clean the slate.
“Sheriff, what are you going to do in the next budget cycle?” asked Precinct 2 Commissioner Linda Raschke.
“I don’t have a choice but to enforce the law,” Blackburn responded.
Blackburn explained that these expenses are just for the standard operation of the Sheriff’s Office, not excess work. He cited an instance that accounted for a massive portion of overtime: A suspect charged with attempted murder of a police officer was in the hospital from April through June of this year and had to be under 24-hour surveillance.
“I’m not going to punish people for having excess comp time when we have to call them in,” Blackburn told DailyTrib.com. “They’re dedicated to their jobs, and I appreciate them coming in; otherwise, we couldn’t work.”
The sheriff said a lack of job applicants and low competitive pay were behind the understaffing plaguing his department. The Commissioners Court approved a 7 percent raise for all Llano County staff, including at the Sheriff’s Office, in the fiscal year 2022-23 budget, which goes into effect Oct. 1.
Blackburn said it might not be enough.
“Some of the jailers I talked to said that if they made two or three more dollars an hour that they could make ends meet,” he told DailyTrib.com.
The 7 percent raise would raise the current hourly rate for a jailer to $17.04 from $15.93.
Jailer overtime was also affected by overcrowding at the Llano County Jail, which is built for 54 inmates but reached 73 last week. Blackburn said 68 inmates are currently in the jail.
About $26,000 in overages were given to the Sheriff’s Office to cover inmate housing.
According to Blackburn, new legislation passed in 2022 has increased bail amounts significantly, making it harder for suspects to get out of jail. Those with two or more prior class three felonies face massive bail increases. He cited two inmates as examples, one with bail set at $250,000 and the other at $1.5 million.
Commissioners voted unanimously to approve Blackburn’s requests. County Judge Ron Cunningham was not present for the meeting.