The county government avoided a potential crisis at the Stone County Jail last Friday when four jailer/dispatchers who were set to resign showed up for work.
The quorum court’s budget committee began the process of paying jailer/dispatchers for more than 2,100 hours of compensatory time a day after they met senior jail staff members expressing concerns about low hourly wages. The total time equates to just more than $23,300.
Jail staff attended a recent quorum court meeting where they told justices that employees could not survive on the standard $11 hourly wage. Several jailers had moved in with parents, they said, applications are at an all-time low, and the resignations would reduce the staff to five jailers, an “unmanageable” situation in a jail that has positions for 13 people.
“Actually, everybody showed up this morning,” jail supervisor Robert Gilbert said Friday morning. “After we had our second meeting with the quorum court several of them still wanted to leave but paying out the compensatory time helped people pay some bills and I think everyone is willing to stay around and see if we get a yes or a no to an hourly wage at the next meeting,” Gilbert said. “I think everyone’s a little happier for the moment.”
Compensatory hours at the jail have accumulated steadily this year as staff numbers declined and with absences related to the COVID-19 pandemic. By paying the compensatory time, the county government gave jailer/dispatchers a windfall until they can determine the feasibility of a raise in the 2022 budget. The budget proposal is due at the court’s next meeting on Nov. 4.
Jailer/dispatcher positions have been vacated 13 times since March. Three employees resigned last month.
Budget Committee Chairman Stan Townsend proposed the compensatory time pay at last week’s meeting.
“We’ve got to pay that one way or another and it doesn’t require a quorum court vote to do it. We’re working fast and furious on a budget for the new year that’s due Nov. 4, so this is something we’ll have figured out by the next quorum court meeting,” Townsend said. “But this committee can’t approve a raise today. That’s not how it works. You’re asking the committee to do something we can’t do here today. We understand the issue, and we’ll try to solve it.”
Jail employees have said their hourly wages are low in comparison to those in surrounding counties. County officials have said government revenues in Stone County are considerably less than others, and thus, they have less money to work with.
“Nobody wants to mistreat any of the county employees,” Townsend said, “but there is only so much money to work with.”
With taxes, insurance, and benefits, the county pays $33,995 per year for an employee whose hourly wages are $11. Annual costs increase to $36,668 at $12 per hour, and $39,341 at $13 per hour.
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