Bexar County commissioners approved 30,338 hours in additional overtime pay Tuesday for sheriff’s deputies working in the county jail, adding to a thick ledger of overtime hours expended at the sheriff’s department.

Less than halfway through fiscal year 2021, which started Oct. 1, commissioners have approved about 115,000 overtime hours for detention deputies at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center – or $4.6 million in overtime pay.

County commissioners requested a staffing study in January, when commissioners approved 61,000 hours in overtime pay for detention officers. Those hours were expended by Feb. 3, budget manager Tanya Gaitain told commissioners.

The majority of the 30,338 hours appeared to be for the staffing of eight living units within the jail’s South Tower that isolate people with COVID-19 and those quarantining before joining the jail’s general population. The staffing study, conducted by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office and staff from the budget department, discovered that staffing the coronavirus isolation units was not already funded, requiring more than 2,300 overtime hours per week to staff.

“They are units that are not funded, but if they have to move people because of COVID protection, then that’s where they have to go, right? … So even if it’s not funded, it’s something they would have to do for the protection of inmates,” Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores (Pct. 1) pointed out.

Gaitan recommended commissioners approve $1.2 million to cover the department’s 30,338 overtime hours from Feb. 6 to April 9, which they did unanimously – but not without comment.

Commissioner Trish DeBerry (Pct. 3) told Sheriff Javier Salazar she appreciated that his office worked with county staff to assess the large amounts of overtime pay needed, but “we’re probably only looking at the tip of the iceberg.”

Salazar said while the 30,338 hours in overtime needed to be approved, he suggested he wouldn’t continue to require that much.

“Obviously we’re gonna have to keep coming back [with overtime requests],” he said. “But I see us coming back more often for smaller bites.”

Salazar touted his office’s recruitment efforts.

“If our recruiters are continuing to run the machine as they have been, I think that those smaller bites will continue to get smaller and smaller as we’re coming back more infrequently.”

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has 266 full-time vacancies, with 141 recruits in the “pipeline” and getting trained for those jobs, Salazar said.

Commissioners also approved $650,000 to pay for retention and signing bonuses, which Salazar said would help recruit people from outside of Bexar County. 

“A good portion of those [141 recruits] are from Laredo and Uvalde, where we also just recently had a highly successful event,” Salazar said. “And I think that these bonuses are going to help out with moving costs if we’re going to be bringing in new cadets, new deputies from other parts of the state.”

Those 141 recruits should be in place at the jail within a couple of weeks, Salazar said.

The budget department recommended providing new recruits with $2,000 signing bonuses in fiscal years 2021 and 2022 and giving $2,000 retention bonuses to existing cadets and recruits with temporary jailers licenses.

Not all Bexar County Sheriff’s Office detention deputies worked overtime, Gaitan said. In December, 50% of the staff worked at least 15 hours of overtime a week. Of those, 25% put in at least 20 hours of overtime and 10% put in more than 26 hours overtime each week, Gaitan said.

“One of the recommendations that we are making is to ensure that the overtime hours are distributed evenly with the staff in order to help with the burnout rate,” Gaitain said. “Another option is to temporarily move bailiffs and transport officers from the courthouse security division to assist with coverage at the jail.”

Salazar said he agreed with all the recommendations.

“This is all music to my ears,” he said.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.