LOVINGTON — A majority of Lea County Commissioners turned thumbs-down on an idea to encourage employees to learn Spanish by providing a paid incentive each year.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s Q u i ck Fa c t s website identified more than 58 percent of Lea County residents as Hispanic of all races based on 2017 data from numerous sources.
Following a request from Commissioner Jonathan Sena, county human resources director Craig Bova last week presented a proposed bilingual policy offering $1,500 to full-time employees who could successfully pass an annual English-Spanish language proficiency test administered by a third party.
“It would be a testing procedure employees would have to take on an annual basis and they would have to perform at a proficiency level that would be set,” Bova said. “Once they pass the test, they would be certified at the proficiency level for that $1,500.”
Sena said he had recently knocked on doors in his district, finding both English and Spanish spoken, with some residents speaking only Spanish.
“This is an incentive that would make the staff better in their skill set,” Sena said. “I believe that speaking Spanish would help our team be more effective and provide more safety in engaging our community.”
Commission chairwoman Rebecca Long expressed discomfort at the proposal even though she hopes to be bilingual some day.
“I’m not sure I agree with this because we have such an influx of people that we have other needs,” Long said. “I’d almost like to take this money and hire more environmental people, more sheriff’s deputies. … I understand it, but I’m not so sure the use of that money wouldn’t be good going somewhere else.”
Bova estimated the proposed policy, involving an estimated 90-100 employees who may take advantage of it, would cost up to $150,000 per year.
Commissioner Don Jones confirmed with Bova the proposed testing would be annual, then shook his head, “I agree for one time, but I agree with Commissioner Long.”
To Commissioner Gary Eidson’s question about whether the test would be verbal or written, Bova responded it would be computer based and involve proficiency in both speaking and writing. Eidson made no other comment.
Commissioner Dean Jackson concluded the discussion.
“I think it should be every citizen’s goal to speak English. That’s the language of the land. I compliment people who can do both. I can’t,” Jackson said. “I’m like Commissioner Long. I think we could use this money to hire additional employees and if they’re bilingual, so much the better. But I think everybody should at least strive to speak English.”
Since the discussion was not an action item, no vote was taken, but Bova sat down with an understanding where the commissioners stood on the proposed policy.
Curtis C. Wynne may be contacted at .