BELTON — Less than halfway through the fiscal year, Bell County has already gone over budget on the amount of overtime it allotted for jailers.
The county budgeted $300,000, a $200,000 decrease from the previous year, despite paying out $1.3 million in overtime in the last fiscal year.
The number reflects a Bell County Jail system that may be understaffed. Sheriff Eddy Lange recently hired a consultant to examine operations at the two jails the county operates to see if more staffing is necessary.
“We meet current jail standards, but to get there we are expending a tremendous amount of overtime,” Lange said.
Bell County Judge Jon Burrows said the overage in overtime pay is offset by savings the county accrues through vacancies. Though the county budgets for full employment, several positions are always open. The jail itself has six vacancies, including the jail administrator.
“It’s a non-issue,” Burrows said.
In an interview in Lange’s office Friday, the sheriff was critical of the amount the county spends on overtime. Lange was one of the county commissioners who approved the budget, but he said he remained hands-off on the sheriff’s budget because he did not want anyone to perceive a conflict of interest while he campaigned for sheriff.
Phase out OT
Lange said he is attempting to phase out overtime. However, the average level of pay for a guard at the county jail may make overtime cuts painful for staff.
Starting pay for a jail guard is $25,104 — about $12 an hour. Jailers in Williamson County make roughly $33,000 a year, and guards in McLennan County start at about $31,000 a year.
Williamson County also averages fewer inmates than Bell County, but employs 307 jail staff. Bell County has a budgeted operating staff of 191.
“As a general rule, (Bell County jailers) get paid less and do more than (in) surrounding counties,” Lange said. “I applaud them for that.”
The relatively low pay may be one motivating factor for jailers to seek overtime. Burrows said the jail generally has guards who volunteer for extra shifts.
“As long as people are not overworked on that, it gives them the opportunity to make more money through overtime,” he said.
To cut back on overtime, Lange may turn to a pool of part-time workers. He said Bell County’s military community is rife with soldiers looking for extra work that have an interest in law enforcement.
Part-time jailers would save the county money not only by decreasing overtime hours but also because they would not receive any health benefits.