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EDINBURG — A new policy to allow Hidalgo County employees who received overpayments as part of a longevity plan instituted by the county five years ago was approved Tuesday.

Under the new policy, employees will be able to pay back the money in one lump sum or make payments over a period of month until the money is refunded.

County Treasurer Norma Garcia said her previous estimate of as many as 200 employees being affected was high.

Anyone who has worked with the county for over 30 years who is receiving the $60 annual supplement must pay back the money. The same goes for the Sheriff’s Department except the maximum number of years an employee could work and still receive longevity supplements was 25 years. Elected officials cannot receive longevity pay.

Garcia said the policy was initiated five years ago meaning the most any employee would owe back to the county was $300; there are very few employees who had been with the county that long, she added. The policy was put in place to encourage Hidalgo County employees to stay as the county has a high turnover of employees.

In other items, Heath and Human Services Department Director Eddie Olivarez told commissioners the Waiver 115 prepared for Hidalgo and Cameron counties and Willacy and Starr County Health Districts had been approved by the state and forwarded to the federal level for study.

Olivarez reminded commissioners they had set aside $3 million for use for indigent health care. The amount needed would be approximately $2.8 million. Based on formulas set up by the federal government, the money would be multiplied and sent back to the county for use for indigent health care. The amount of money the county could expect to receive was unclear, but Olivarez suggested it might grow to as much as $6.8 million based on which multipliers were used to figure funding.

Budget Director Sergio Cruz said the money would come back to the county as a restricted fund. It could not be used for purposes such as road and bridge building. The money multiplied and returned would be restricted to indigent medical care.

In drought discussions, commissioners were told the heavy rain from last week caused a water pipe to crack and send water into one of the county’s computer servers, which could’ve potentially damaged county records. With backups working and special technicians being flown in from Dallas to help recover information, there was no loss of vital information. However, officials said something needed to be done to assure the situation did not occur again.

Approximately 20 members of the Sheriff’s Department, certified as Domestic Abuse Intervention Specialists, including Sheriff Lupe Treviño were honored after receiving the state’s “2013 Best Practices Award” for their domestic abuse program.

The specialized strategies the program included created a series of steps for dealing with domestic abuse. It was developed in conjunction with Mujeres Unidas after the death of a Hidalgo County resident.

Treviño said there is a 68 percent repeat offense rate in domestic abuse.

“Those repeat offenders are the ones who eventually kill their partners, ” he said. “Domestic violence crimes are especially hideous because a person’s home is supposed to be their castle where they are safe and they aren’t.”

The program run by the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department and Mujeres Unidas has a low rate of return offenders.

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