The Red River County Commissioners court was held on Monday, Aug. 10. The meeting saw county judge L.D. Williamson back a “Hazard pay” introduction for the Sheriff’s Department.
“I felt they deserved more money than we’re paying,” said Williamson in support of the grant.
Red River County Sheriff’s Department Investigator, Samantha Sellers, presented the grant-funded temporary pay increase at the meeting.
“After thorough research, Judge Williamson, Camille [County Auditor] and myself found that the CARES ACT does cover Hazard pay for law enforcement,” said Seller. “If approved, we would only have to make an addition to our current policy for dealing with people with infectious diseases.”
She explained to the court that the current policy for the department already stated, “no officer may refuse to interview, assist, arrest or otherwise physically handle a person that may have a communicable disease.”
Law enforcement officers are already required by law to respond to all calls that come through to the department. They tried to handle some calls via telephone when the pandemic first hit, but found this method unsuccessful compared to face-to-face interactions.
Furthermore, Sellers pointed out that although all who work within the department understand there is a level of risk, COVID-19 was an unfair risk factor to possibly get exposed or risk passing a disease to a family member at home. This created stress for some deputies in the department who have children with compromised immune systems.
Like other county’s, Red River County has the same stipulations for the use of funds under the CARES ACT funding. Spending must total at least 75 percent of the accessible funds, and purchases must be made on necessary expenditures concerning COVID-19. The pay requested under the grant is covered within the first three categories that fall into the federal requirement.
“What nobody signed up for or knew about was COVID-19. There is the potential that I could respond to a call, be exposed, and then take it home to my family,” explained Sellers.
All precinct commissioners voted in favor of adopting the Hazard pay from the CARES ACT for the Sheriff’s Department employees. The amount to carry through until the end of the act’s coverage on Thursday, Dec. 31 would amount to a $600 monthly payment to qualified employees. The payment will not cover the Sheriff, as this position is an elected position and is not covered under the grant fund details.
As with any funds that come from the CARES ACT, all of the money will be reimbursed to the county to ensure there are no expenses to taxpayers.
Williamson also said should a vaccine be available before the end of the CARES ACT grant funds, he would nix the Hazard pay and transfer that money to purchasing vaccines for the county in a manner that is in line with any requirements that would be attached.
“It won’t do anything to protect them from being exposed, but hopefully it will help them feel a little more at ease being right at the forefront of possible exposure to themselves and their families,” said Williamson.
Sellers said Red River County is the first to adopt the Hazard pay through the CARES ACT for law enforcement. She also advised that she had been helping several other department heads in the area to understand and work towards them, and possibly taking up the same grant for their employees.