Employees of the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office and juvenile detention will receive a $5,000 bonus for their work during the pandemic.

Funding for what also has been described as “hazard pay” is provided by federal stimulus funding. Gregg County, the city of Longview and other entities received the funds to help recover from the expenses and lost revenues brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The county will receive close to $24.1 million, said Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt. The city will receive about $17 million.

The Gregg County Commissioners Court recently approved a plan presented by Sheriff Maxey Cerliano to provide what will be a one-time bonus to county law enforcement officers. Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said the $5,000 bonuses will be paid over the course of the coming year in the employees’ paychecks.

“COVID was pretty rampant in the jail, and a number of our officers had it,” Stoudt said. “It was tough during that time.”

Stoudt said using the money for stipends is one of the legal ways it can be spent, but the decision is based on more than that.

“It was the court’s way of showing the appreciation we have for the law enforcement of Gregg County,” and their families, he said. Their jobs are hard daily, he said, but that was compounded by the pandemic. All of Gregg County’s personnel with badges will receive the stipends, from patrol officers and jailers to administrative and juvenile detention staff.

The stipends will cost a total of about $1.17 million, with information that Cerliano presented to the commissioners court saying the pandemic “placed an unprecedented strain on the sheriff’s office and juvenile detention officers who have had an unequal impact of the pandemic and continued to work at an elevated risk.” They worked through state-at-home orders

“We made a concerted effort and commitment to the sheriff’s department, and the stipend was the beginning of it,” Stoudt said, but he wants the county to do more.

He said he instructed Cerliano to develop a three-year plan to boost the pay for Gregg County’s law enforcement officers.

“We’re falling behind in all the law enforcement agencies around us,” Stoudt said, and that makes it difficult to hire employees.

The county also is using about $1 million of the federal stimulus money, along with funding from the East Texas Council of Governments, to pay for an almost $1.8 million upgrade to the communications system for the sheriff’s office, according to information presented to commissioners.

The county also is seeking a consultant to help formulate a plan for spending the rest of the county’s stimulus money and ensure the county meets all the guidelines for how it’s used.

Stoudt said the money provides an opportunity to focus on broadband and water needs in the county. Places such as Liberty City are growing, he said, but that area’s water comes from wells and needs to be upgraded to support economic development. The money provides an opportunity to prepare for the growth he sees coming to East Texas in the next 20 years, working in collaboration with the city of Longview and other local cities.

“The main thing is, we’ve really got a chance to make an impact we normally wouldn’t have been able to make on a lot of different fronts,” Stoudt said. “We’ve got one chance to do it right the first time.”

The city of Longview has received the first half of its federal stimulus funding but has not spent any of it, said city spokesman Shawn Hara. A plan for the money will be formulated as part of the next fiscal year’s budget, which will be presented to the City Council later this month.

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