County approves personnel policy

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The Socorro County Commission approved the county's updated personnel policy — but with an amendment — during the commission's regular meeting Jan. 22 after a public hearing where law enforcement overtime was the hot subject.

County manager Delilah Walsh said many changes in the personnel policy were to bring it current with federal law. Vacation hours were also increased and some language in the policy was cleaned up regarding disciplinary action. She noted the personnel policy was last updated in 2005, when it was first implemented.

The process of updating the personnel policy included a comment period, which began when the County Commission published a general summary of the policy. The commission approved publication of the policy at its regular meeting Nov. 27, 2012.

Walsh said the county received only two comments on the personnel policy since it was published: One said law enforcement would prefer their overtime pay start after 40 hours per week rather than 43 — especially since deputies are not that highly paid in the first place, and the other asked that the policy not prohibit people other than county employees from riding in county vehicles. On the second comment, Walsh explained volunteer firefighters asked that not be changed because they would like to continue using county vehicles to go to meetings and conferences and still be able to take their family members along.

Walsh said she highlighted changes in red so people reviewing the personnel policy could easily see where changes were made.

Sheriff Phillip Montoya agreed heartily with the comment about overtime for law enforcement.

"The guys don't get paid hourly that high," Montoya said. "… And detention also, I mean, they don't make a lot. So if we could leave it at 40, that greatly helps."

Walsh said the option is addressed under the Fair Labor Standards Act, not state statute, and it's up to the commissioners what they would like to have in the county ordinance.

County attorney Adren Nance said the reason the federal Fair Labor Standards Act allows law enforcement to be paid overtime after 43 hours on the workweek is because it is typical for law enforcement personnel to work a lot of overtime since they have to attend court proceedings, respond to emergencies and more. He explained it can be unduly burdensome for local governments to have to pay law enforcement the overtime rate starting at 40 hours. Nance suggested the county complete an analysis before making the change.

District 3 Commissioner Phillip Anaya asked if it was illegal to keep the overtime at 40 hours for law enforcement. Nance replied it is not.

"I think these guys deserve that," Anaya said.

When the time came to make a motion to approve the personnel policy, Anaya did so with the stipulation overtime starts after 40 hours in a week across the board for all county employees, not 43 for law enforcement.

"I do believe Adren made a valid point … they do have to put extra time in," board chairman and District 4 Commissioner Daniel Monette said. "But … we're working on getting our employees to better pay so I don't have a problem with this."

Anaya's motion passed unanimously. The freshly updated personnel policy takes effect Feb. 22.

Following the public hearing on the personnel policy was another public hearing on a property tax rebate benefitting low-income taxpayers. Discussion on that matter was short; Walsh explained the county has the option to waive property taxes for county residents at the lowest income levels. Counties must review the option every so often, and Socorro County reviews it every year. She said as far as she knows, Los Alamos County is currently the only county in the state that has enacted the option.

"If we did it, we would eliminate the majority of our tax base," Walsh said.

The commission took no action on the property tax rebate option.