Court extends employee COVID policy

New plan places limits on benefits to discourage abuse

Bill Spinks
Waxahachie Daily Light
The Ellis County Historic Courthouse.

The Ellis County Commissioners’ Court took a deep dive into county employees’ COVID-19 paid time off during Tuesday’s regular bi-weekly meeting, approving an updated policy for the rest of the 2021 calendar year.

County human resource director Theresa Taylor said the federal Families First Coronavirus Act and the county’s previous policy both expired on Dec. 31. Taylor said the new policy ensures pay to employees who are impacted by COVID-19 while placing limits on benefits that she said will help limit abuse of the program by a small but significant number.

The new rules will provide temporary leave for employees directly affected by COVID, and will include public safety personnel, which Taylor said was not the case under the previous law.

“It allows a little more flexibility,” Taylor said. “It allows employees who are subject to an isolation order because of a positive COVID test up to 40 hours of leave for all of 2021.”

In order to be eligible for COVID time off, Taylor said verifiable documentation of a positive test must be provided. If an employee is subject to a quarantine because they think they might be exposed but aren’t sure, Taylor said, that employee would be asked to use their ordinary accumulated sick time for that time.

“It puts a little more onus on our employees to be careful,” she said.

Taylor asked commissioners to adopt the new policy only through the end of February, but the court instead decided to extend the policy through the end of 2021. The policy will be revisited during the Feb. 23 court meeting and adjustments can be made at that time.

“We want people to be isolated if they have a positive test,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Paul Perry said. “Even if they’re exposed, we want them to be very careful. I don’t want to put any policy in place that discourages people, because the virus is very infectious. So we do need to monitor this and make sure we’re not discouraging people from taking necessary time off.”

Judge Todd Little said the county will be reimbursed for every dollar spent under the COVID relief funds the county has received.

The court also accepted the county’s time compensatory report. Taylor said the county’s comp time balance at the end of the year was 6,846 hours with a cash liability of $169,259.

Since Oct. 1, the balance has increased by 943 hours, or just under $26,000, Taylor reported. The Sheriff’s Office accounted for 335 of those hours and the jail 188 hours during that time, making a total of 4,948 accumulated hours of comp time for the Sheriff’s Office at the end of December, or more than 72 percent of the entire county balance.

Another area experiencing large numbers of comp time is the county’s juvenile holdover, with an increase of 322 hours in the last three months of 2020.

Other items

• The court passed a resolution declaring Jan. 26 as Bessie Coleman Day in Ellis County, and also issued a proclamation declaring the third week of January as Sanctity of Human Life Week.

• The approved consent agenda consisted of approval of previous minutes, acceptance of various reports, a one-year renewal of a license agreement with Permitium, the resignation of Raymond Miner of Emergency Services District No. 5, an interlocal cooperation agreement with the city of Red Oak through the end of 2021, approval to purchase various items on an as-needed basis using a cooperative contract, a $2,960 tax refund to Designated Title, LLC, and several budgetary line-item adjustments.

• The court awarded a contract for printing forms to College Street Printing.

• An existing contingency contract for disaster debris removal with TFR Enterprises, Inc. was extended for one year to Jan. 25, 2022.

• A check issuance of $100,604.98 from the General Fund to the Motor Vehicle Account was approved to close the balance following a shortfall over a number of years discovered by county auditor Janet Martin. Following the approval, a line item transfer of $102,000 was transferred from the contingency fund to the motor vehicle account fund.

• Martin also requested and received budget amendments that add money to the county’s contingency surplus. The amount of $459,562 was added to the surplus from parcel commission ad valorem taxes from 2015, 2018 and 2019; and bank interest of $160,054 for fiscal years 2016-2020 was added to the surplus as well.

• A pair of clerk positions were reclassified as Clerk III, which according to County Clerk Krystal Valdez will result in a net savings to the county.

• Commissioners approved interlocal agreements with Midlothian and Red Oak for mutual aid services and approval of direct request assistance regarding operation of COVID-19 vaccination sites. More municipalities will join the county in the coming days, Judge Little noted.

• The court accepted the county’s fourth-quarter 2020 investment report.

• Following an hour-long executive session, the court took no public action.

• Prior to the meeting, the court held a workshop to discuss a proposed reinvestment zone in Precinct 3 that would allow the Italy Independent School District to pursue a value limitation agreement under Chapter 313 of the Texas Tax Code.