County commissioners discuss hazard pay for local deputies

July 17, 2020 chris
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By Emma Kirkemier, Staff Correspondent

At its July 14 meeting, the Etowah County Commission discussed a possible stipend for the sheriff’s office that would provide hazard pay to Etowah County sheriff’s deputies as well as to detention depties working at the Etowah County jail.

The stipend, which would award each sheriff’s deputy and detention deputy $1,000, has been a topic of discussion at multiple commission meetings.

Sheriff Jonathon W. Horton advocated for the stipend for his deputies, reminding commissioners that unlike many county employees, deputies are unable to use shields or distancing measures to protect them from the coronavirus at work.

“[Hazard pay of] $1,000 goes a long way [for the deputies],” Horton said. “… We have a great staff over there, and they’ve done some great things. And I would be below myself not to do the biggest things that I can do for them.”

Chief Financial Officer Kevin Dollar estimated that the stipend would probably cost about $200,000 with all deputies and detention deputies included with benefits. The commission considered whether or not the money would be reimbursable from either state or federal funds.

Chief Administrative Officer Shane Ellison said the guidance that commissioners have received from the state as to “who’s covered and who’s not” has been unclear, especially in regards to the detention deputies.

“I think at some point you have to take a leap of faith,” Ellison said.

Detention deputies are considered essential employees because, according to an order from Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, employees of “government operations” are considered essential. However, whether or not detention deputies qualify for law enforcement hazard pay has been unclear.

Several commissioners voiced their support for detention deputies receiving hazard pay, and the commission resolved to put the stipend on the next meeting’s agenda.

The Etowah County jail was also discussed in regards to the needed heating, ventilation and air conditioning repairs there.

P&M Mechanical of Birmingham, Alabama, was awarded the bid for the HVAC project, which Ellison said will also include repairs to the jail’s exterior insulation and finish systems, as well as similar but more minor repairs to the judicial building and to the Etowah County Courthouse.

Horton said that COVID-19 cases in the jail have been low, but improvements to the jail’s HVAC system may help to more effectively prevent the further spread of the virus.