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2014-07-31

COLAs, longevity pay for elected officials

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Bandera County elected officials may receive a 2.1 percent COLA (cost of living adjustment) increase during the next fiscal year, which represents the first such increase for commissioners in four or five years.
"The last time I got a pay raise, it amounted to one dollar more in my paycheck," said Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris, adding, "And I took a lot of heat for that one dollar." Discussions took place at a July 24 meeting.
For the first time, proposed longevity pay for eligible elected officials will also be on the table. An elected official must work five years before receiving longevity pay, which amounts to $60 for every year of service. Therefore, officials who have served five years will receive an extra $300 per year.
"Members of the commissioners court are the lowest paid elected officials in the county - and they're also lower than any elected officials in surrounding counties," Harris said. "At some point, salaries are going to have to be increased to attract qualified people to run for these offices."
Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug King, who will be leaving the court on Dec. 31, voted against the COLA for commissioners.
In advance of public hearings for the Bandera County budget for fiscal year 2014-2015, the discussion also included other benefits for elected officials, employees and retirees.
Regarding health insurance, auditor Christina Moreno advised commissioners essentially to "do nothing" even though the insurance costs will increase next year by $54 per person covered. "If you pass on a $10 increase to the employees, the county will pay $44 per month per employee," she said. "This would be an increase of $99,145 in cost to the county." There are 186 county employees who have health insurance. For the record, the county equates to taxpayers.
In addition, in the past, new county employees had to wait 90 days before being eligible for health care benefits. However, stipulations included in President Barack Obama's Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) have cut the waiting period to 60 days, adding an increased financial burden to the county.
Decrying what he referred to as the "Unaffordable Care Act," Judge Richard Evans noted, "If we were to change our healthcare provider now, we would not be grandfathered in and the result would be catastrophic." The court reached a consensus to pass on $10 of the increase to county elected officials and employees.
"I'm not happy with this, but it could be a thousand times worse," Harris said. "This is minute compared to what is going on with the rest of the health care and workforce."
Moreno related the story of a friend who had signed up for ACA. After her friend's husband was admitted to the hospital, the couple found out their deductible was $5,000.
Dental insurance coverage increased to $21.64 from last year's $20.06.
Bandera County Commissioners reached a consensus, agreeing to allocate a 1 percent COLA to retirees, which would cost the county $3,155.
As Evans noted, however, none of the proposals are as yet set in stone. Requirements prior to their adoption in the budget include publishing a legal notice and scheduling a public hearing in August.