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2013-08-01

County may see salary hikes of 5.24 percent

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

The 1.24 percent cost of living increase approved for all Bandera County employees and elected officials - with the exception of County Judge Richard Evans and the commissioners - may be augmented with the assistance of newly minted Precinct 1 Commissioner Bob Grimes and Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Wilkerson.

During a budget workshop on Thursday, July 25, Grimes proposed an additional across-the-board 4 percent salary increase for all county employees and elected officials - including the judge and commissioners. The COLA allowance would also apply to members of commissioners court, giving all employees and elected officials a 5.24 percent salary hike.

"It has been three years since the employees received a salary increase," Grimes said. "The employees and elected officials are the backbone of the county. We need to retain all individuals. This would keep the county competitive with surrounding counties and organizations. It doesn't make sense that if we can 'float the boat' in the current budget that we don't include all the passengers on the boat."

Wilkerson seconded Grimes' motion.

Evans explained that in order to offer raises to elected officials, the motion would need to be placed on the agenda again, notices published in a newspaper and public hearings set. However, he added that there was sufficient time for the necessary steps to be undertaken before a final budget was prepared. "We could do it within the budget timeline," Evans said.

Evans added a 4 percent across-the-board increase plus the previously approved COLA increase would be reflected by a $400,000 increase in the budget for fiscal year 2013-2014.

Attempting to find funds for the raises from the proposed budget, Evans noted that an expense of $200,000 would be freed up because a building necessary to house juvenile probation, as well as the animal control shelter, would not be included in next year's budget. However, $100,000 in revenues had been lost due to a decrease in the jail population. When Gillespie County builds a new jail, that number might drop even more. And the local jail has a fixed overhead that's nearly impossible to reduce.
Expecting that in-house billing for EMS will save considerable amounts of money over the next several years, Grimes said, "I'm confident that there will be a substantial increase in EMS billing."

Additionally, the county is expected to raise approximately $100,000 in property taxes over last year due to increased valuations. "The tax rate will stay the same, but property values have increased," Evans quickly pointed out.

He continued, "The idea is to plan for the worst, but hope for the best. However, if the worse happens, this path is not sustainable," referring to the proposed salary increases. When salaries are increased, those numbers stay in the budget forever without being rolled back.

Auditor Christina Moeller suggested that increased revenue might be raised from Mansfield Park and the county park at Medina Lake.

While increased revenues from Mansfield Park, under the direction of Wilkerson, might ease the budget somewhat, no such assurances came from Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris.

"When Medina Lake is filled, we don't use any taxpayer money at the county park, but the park is closed and I've never had to do that before. We can't even open it for picnics because of dangerous conditions," he told the court. "There's not a drop of water on any county property except for hydrants. If I could cut expenses, I would cut expenses, but I've done all I can." He added, "And here we are, wanting to pass out raises that the judge is saying are unsustainable."

According to Harris, of the 19 elected officials who would receive the proposed 5.24 percent proposed raises, seven earn over $50,000 a year; seven make over $30,000 a year and five make less than $30,000, which includes the four commissioners and Precinct 1 Constable Phil Tobin.

"It would be very hard for me to vote for giving someone a raise who is making over $50,000 a year," Harris said. "Do I think the commissioners need a raise? Yes, but this isn't the time."

According to the United States Census Bureau, the per capita income in the past 12 months for Caucasian residents of Bandera County was $24,082 and for Hispanics, the per capita income was $17,500.

The Courier will publish the times and dates of public hearings about the proposed salary increases of employees and elected officials in Bandera County as soon as they are scheduled.