Dave Rogers

For The Record

Saying it was unfair that county employees who evacuated were paid the same as those who worked through the Tropical Storm Harvey disaster, a majority of Orange County commissioners pushed through the county’s third different disaster pay rate in two years Tuesday.

Commissioners Barry Burton, Johnny Trahan and John Gothia successfully voted for the measure that will pay employees up to 2.25 times their base pay during the next disaster.

County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton and Commissioner Jody Crump didn’t like the idea and refused to go along, but the measure passed on the 3-2 vote.

While Orange County was under a declared state of disaster Aug. 27 through Sept. 12, the county’s hourly non-union employees were paid their regular 40-hour salaries, whether or not they worked.

Those who did work were paid time-and-a-half for overtime hours worked during the disaster declaration.

Exact sums spent on Harvey disaster pay were unavailable Tuesday.

However, a payroll summary from the county for the pay period of Sept. 1-Sept. 14 shows 33 employees worked 754.5 overtime hours, an average of about 23 hours per person, and earned a total of $24,497.46 in extra pay.

That averages out to $742 per person.

Sheriff’s deputies, jailers and dispatchers who are hourly union employees were paid double time for 84 “regular time” hours each two weeks plus double time for every hour they worked beyond that during the 17 days of disaster declaration.

The payroll summary for the first 14 days of September, which includes 12 “disaster” days, shows 112 employees worked 12,765 hours of double time, earning $715,725.58.

Subtracting 84 hours for each of the 112 union employees, that leaves each one working 30 additional hours.

Regardless of who made what during the disaster, FEMA is supposed to pay 100 percent of disaster pay for Harvey, Carlton noted.

“I think a lot of politics were played this time. Typically, it’s 75-25,” he said, meaning the county has picked up 25 percent of the labor costs in prior storms.

“I think we should base it more on history,” he said, arguing against upping disaster pay.

“And how many millions are we still owed on [2008 Hurricane] Ike?” Crump asked.

The deputies’ union agreed Sept. 29 to amendments in its work contract with the county that will have its members on the same disaster pay policy as the rest of the county employees.

Until July 2016, all county employees received double time during disasters.

The policy that passed Tuesday was patterned after one in effect in Jefferson County.

It calls for employees who are determined as “essential personnel” by the county judge to be paid 1.5 times their regular pay for their first 40 hours per week during a declared disaster, then get 1.5 times that amount (or 2.25 times their regular pay) for hours beyond 40.

All employees who can’t work because of the disaster and aren’t considered “essential” for the response will be paid their regular pay.

“The people who sit at home get paid 40 hours, too. That’s not fair,” Trahan said, speaking of the policy he was seeking to change.

“This [higher pay] is an acknowledgement of those who go above and beyond,” Burton said.

“There should be a way to recognize those people,” Gothia said.

Carlton said he didn’t think employees needed extra for pitching in.

“I think everybody worked the best they could have during the storm,” he said. “I think everyone performed to their maximum capacity. I don’t think anybody was holding back, saying, ‘If I only got paid more, I’d work harder’.

“By upping the amount, it’s going to cost more. What’s the impact on services for the citizens?”

Trahan had an answer.

“If someone comes out in an emergency situation when everyone else has evacuated, I don’t think paying a small premium is a huge thing.”

Crump didn’t feel the same way.

“We’re here to provide services,” he said. “Sometimes that includes saving people.”

While Carlton didn’t agree with the changes modeled on Jefferson County’s policy, Trahan noted that Carlton frequently favorably cites the actions of the county to the west.

“We look at Jefferson County a lot when it’s the argument we want,” Trahan said.

The county opened its weekly business meeting by paying $1.1 million in bills, a figure higher than normal because it included a double payment for employees’ monthly health care insurance.

Commissioners also OK’d a check for $247,000 for a Gradall hydraulic excavator for use by the road and bridge department.

And everyone expressed exasperation about having to resubmit contracts and other documents because of newly stipulated requirements by FEMA.

“We don’t have time for this tomfoolery,” Doug Manning, assistant county attorney, declared.