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NASH COUNTY COMMISSIONERS

Sheriff’s office seeks ‘gap time’ compensation

Posted on October 11, 2021

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kripley@springhopeenterprise.com

NASHVILLE — Nash County is putting together a inclusive committee to select a company to study county employees’ salary structure, but the sheriff’s office has asked for additional overtime compensation for patrol and detention officers.

The county Board of Commissioners requested a salary study last month, but County Manager Zee Lamb told commissioners during their Oct. 4 regular meeting that he is forming a staff-level committee to recommend an outside company to conduct the study. He said the committee would include representation from the sheriff’s office and the county’s emergency services and human resources agencies.

Commissioners seemed satisfied with the salary study process, but at the end of the meeting, sheriff’s Maj. Allen Wilson stirred considerable discussion when he directly asked the board to increase compensation for certain employees in the sheriff’s office where overtime is necessary to provide 24/7 service.

Tension rose as Lamb argued that the request should be included for review as part of the impending salary study while the sheriff’s office seemed to push for faster action, arguing the county should follow policies consistent with the state of North Carolina’s policies for the N.C. Highway Patrol. Commissioners then echoed a similar split between more study and action.

The discussion is over “gap time,” which is the difference between a regular 160-hour work cycle and a federal exemption for law enforcement that allows local governments to work law enforcement, fire and detention officers “in excess of 40 hours per week up to 171 hours in a 28-day cycle without any compensation.”

Wilson said in order to provide minimum coverage, the sheriff’s office has used a work schedule for 20 years that requires patrol deputies and detention officers to work 12-hour shifts totaling 168 hours, resulting in 104 hours above the 40-hour workweek cap each year.

“Although the federal labor law does not require the county to compensate law enforcement for these hours, it does not mean that a policy cannot be adopted to prevent it from occurring,” Wilson said.

Wilson said state and federal law enforcement officers are compensated for time worked above 160 hours either at their regular hourly pay rate or through compensatory time for gap hours worked, and he urged the county to adopt a similar policy.

He noted that the 911 call center faced a similar problem a few years ago and opted to compensate with pay rather than time off, which improved the center’s operation.

By paying for the extra hours rather than awarding comp time, he said, “we’ll actually have more manpower available.”

“It’s very complicated,” noted county board Chairman Robbie Davis. He asked Lamb for his input.

Lamb said he wants to hear from other counties that have adopted the state’s policy.

“Every county I’ve been to has been the current system,” he said, noting that the change could lead to a 5% increase in salary costs.

Wilson acknowledged the 5% impact, but estimated it could cost less than $100,000. He added that if the county chose to give comp time, that wouldn’t add anything to the budget.

“I would hope the salary study could look at these issues and make a recommendation to the commissioners,” Lamb said. “The fact that a state agency does it one way does not mean it’s in the best interest of a county to do so. It requires more study, more research and analysis to the proposal. This will be a big-ticket item and we need to look at what other counties do.”

Newly appointed Commissioner Gwen Wilkins disagreed.

“It appears we have all the information in front of us,” she said, referring to Wilson’s research. “I’m in agreement with the gap hours; the right to do for paying our law enforcement for their hours. I don’t see what the holdup will be. If we wait for a salary study, it’s going to take time. I feel like this board should move on it. They should get paid for what they work.”

Commissioner Fred Belfield asked if Lamb could make a recommendation before the next board meeting.

“There’s a lot of issues here, and I think this board needs to go slow and study it, and not knee-jerk into a proposal,” Lamb responded. “Everybody appreciates all the sheriff’s department employees do, but we have a budget process. It’s difficult from a management standpoint to deal with the issues in the middle of a budget year. Flawed policy decisions are usually flawed because you don’t have all the information.”

Commissioner Sue Leggett agreed that budget time would be more appropriate for a possible policy change, and Commissioner Wayne Outlaw insisted the policy needs more study.

“This is the first time I’ve seen this,” he said. “I think we would be wise to fully understand the implications of this across the county. For this reason, I support making it part of the salary study.”

“I just got his analysis today,” Lamb said of Wilson’s submission. “We need time to study it.”

“In my mind, there was no intent to take any action this morning,” Davis said, asking for more study and input. But, he added, “We know what the facts are. Now we need to address it.”

“I don’t think we should put a date definite on our staff,” Outlaw objected.

“I have confidence in our staff, but I don’t want to see it dragged out three or four months,” Wilkins said.

“This county is not doing anything improper,” Lamb insisted, referring to the national law enforcement exception.

“I don’t think we’re doing anything improper,” Belfield responded, “but there’s always room for improvement. I’m just asking we get a progress report next month.”

Wilkins made a motion to receive a progress report on the sheriff’s request during November’s county board meeting. The motion passed unanimously.

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