Johnson County commissioners on Monday voted to eliminate a long-standing rule requiring sheriff’s deputies to work more than 171 hours in a 28-day pay period before they can begin to receive overtime pay.
Commissioners also approved an agreement allowing First Financial Trust and Asset Management Co. to invest county funds in government and municipal bonds, despite County Judge Roger Harmon’s vigorous objections to the proposal.
County Treasurer Debbie Rice presented the proposed agreement, suggesting that the county allow First Financial to take at least some of the $10 million the county currently has invested in certificates of deposit and invest the money instead in bonds, which could pay a higher interest rate.
Harmon said he can’t support anything that puts taxpayer dollars at risk.
“When we are dealing with taxpayer money, I don’t like to gamble with it,” Harmon said, adding that if Rice and First Financial officials could “sit here and guarantee me there’s no risk” he would vote to approve the agreement.
Matt Reynolds, First Financial president, reminded Harmon and the commissioners that the $10 million invested in CDs is only a portion of the county funds deposited at First Financial, and that all the county money deposited at the bank is protected, either by the FDIC, which insures deposits up to $250,000, or by bonds the bank is required to buy as collateral to protect the rest of the county’s funds.
“You would be taking a little more of a risk to buy bonds directly,” Reynolds said, but doing so also gives the county the chance to make more with its investments.
Reynolds also suggested that by not taking some risks and aiming for a greater return on its investments than the .15 percent interest rate the CDs are earning, county officials “could be called to task for being too conservative” in their investment practices.
Harmon also objected to paying a fee to the bank to manage the county’s investments. Rice said the fee the bank would charge to manage the investments was relatively small — 35 basis points (35 percent), First Financial Executive Vice President Konrad S. Halbert said.
Rice also said the bank is charging no commission and no up-front fees for managing the funds.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Rick Bailey spoke in favor of the agreement. Precinct 4 Commissioner Don Beeson, saying he believes the county should “take a calculated risk,” made the motion to approve the agreement. Precinct 3 Commissioner Jerry Stringer seconded the motion, which passed on a 4-1 vote, with Harmon casting the only vote against it.
Deputy pay change
Although 160 hours in a 28-day pay period would be considered full-time hours, state law allows counties to hold off paying sheriff’s deputies overtime until they have worked more than 171 hours. The statute was intended to help county governments save money.
In Johnson County, however, a glitch between policy and practice meant that deputies were paid full salary for working 160 hours in a pay period, but that they were not paid at all for the 11 hours between 160 and 171. They, in essence, had to work 11 hours for free before they were paid overtime, at a rate of time-and-a-half.
Commissioners voted June 10 to pay deputies straight time, effective immediately, for the 11 hours between 160 and 171, and then pay them time-and-a-half for time worked over 171 hours.
On Monday, though, the court voted unanimously to eliminate the 171 hour rule completely, effective Oct. 1.
“I know it’s going to be costly, and I know this is a tight budget year,” Beeson said, adding that it is a change the county needs to make to attract and retain top-quality deputies.
“We have a real problem with turnover in the sheriff’s office. We have the largest law enforcement agency in the county, but we have the lowest pay scale of just about all the law enforcement agencies. Alvarado, Joshua, Grandview — they all pay more than we do, and we are losing people to them.”
Bailey agreed, saying that sheriff’s deputies “need to be fairly compensated for their work.”
Bailey said that while he believes county officials have to do their best to keep spending in check and tax rates low, commissioners have to face the possibility of raising the tax rate.
“The general funds are dwindling and this county is growing. And we have to really look at giving our employees some raises,” Bailey said. “Where are we going to be if we don’t do something to address this now. We all pay taxes, and no one wants to have to pay more in taxes. But we have got to start looking at a 10-year plan. I know higher taxes are not popular, but I am not here to be popular.”
Commissioners, after voting to eliminate the 171 hour rule, agreed to wait until they establish the budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year before setting any kind of cap on how much overtime the sheriff’s office can pay, and Harmon noted that the overtime situation would have to be carefully managed.