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Burnet County officials made a major change to the county’s payroll policy on Tuesday, Feb. 14, switching to compensatory time from overtime pay. County Judge James Oakley (left) and Commissioners Billy Wall and Joe Don Dockery voted for the change. Chief Deputy Alan Trevino (right) gave perspective on the challenges the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office faces with managing overtime. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey
The Burnet County Commissioners Court switched from overtime pay to a compensatory time payroll policy for all county employees during its regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 14. The decision was made in an effort to rein in overtime spending by the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office, which has struggled with understaffing and overtime budget overages in recent years.
The change will not go into effect until June and could be tweaked between now and then. The new policy will almost exclusively affect the Sheriff’s Office, which is the only county department that has a significant overtime budget and overages.
Commissioners unanimously approved the comp time policy in lieu of an overtime policy change.
“We’re just trying to find out what’s causing the problem and find possible remedies,” County Judge James Oakley told DailyTrib.com after the meeting. “This is the first step being taken.”
A presentation from Burnet County Human Resources Director Sara Ann Luther laid out what the policy change would mean for the county.
At its most basic level, law enforcement officers will start to accrue compensatory time rather than receive overtime pay once they exceed the 86 hours they are scheduled to work in a two-week period. By federal and state law, law enforcement officers can only carry 480 total hours of compensatory time, at which point, they must be paid for their overtime work, regardless of local policy. Those 480 hours come to roughly 11.6 weeks of work.
If an employee resigns or retires while still carrying compensatory time, the county must pay for those hours at the employee’s current rate of pay before the position can be filled. The Commissioners Court has the ability to pay out for compensatory hours at any time if it chooses.
As of Feb. 14, Burnet County was 38 percent through the 2022-23 fiscal year, but only 9 percent — $4,747.98 out of $52,311 — of the Sheriff’s Office overtime budget remained. Under the BCSO umbrella are dispatchers and jailers, who are far beyond their allotted overtime budgets.
Dispatchers are at 122.62 percent of their budget, meaning that BCSO has spent $55,180.08 on overtime with only $45,000 budgeted for the entire year. Jailers are at 193.15 percent of their budget, or $57,945.44 out of $30,000.
“The overtime is something that we can get a grip on, but we have to be fully staffed to do that,” BCSO Chief Deputy Alan Trevino told DailyTrib.com.
Trevino explained that the Sheriff’s Office is still trying to hire more deputies, jailers, and dispatchers to meet growing demand. Understaffing leads to employees covering each other’s shifts, which then leads to more overtime on top of the typical overtime that law enforcement officers accumulate dealing with emergencies or unexpected extensions to their workday.
“The end game is making sure that we are fully staffed across the board,” Trevino said.