Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Gonzales, Texas debate it, talk about it

Monday: Commissioner tweaked proposed budget: Employees still targeted for 8 percent salary hike, elected officials take less By GREG LITTLE/publisher@gonzalesinquirer.com
The Gonzales County Commissioners Court made several moves on Monday which differed from budget decisions made last week. One of the major moves was changing the salary of the sheriff.
"We've got to get him in line with us and everyone else," said commissioner Kevin La Fleur. Currently, the sheriff earns just over $37,000 per year. La Fleur said he felt the sheriff should be given a salary of $44,000, which is about the same as what each commissioner earns. The discussion about the sheriff's salary came during a workshop held at the end of the regular meeting of the commission. All commissioners agreed on the proposal to raise the salary of the sheriff.
They also said that would be his salary and he would not receive a percentage raise this year. Judge David Bird said because all commissioners were in agreement with the sheriff's salary issue, no vote was necessary.
All changes made during the meeting Monday will be placed into the budget and be presented at a public hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 19. That will be the first of two budget hearings. The second is set for Monday, Aug. 25.
During last week's two-day budget workshop, commissioners were basing the budget on an 8 percent pay raise for all county employees. But on Monday, commissioner Dell Whiddon proposed that all elected and appointed officials be given a 5 percent raise and the rest of the employees be given an 8 percent raise. Everyone also agreed this would be a good idea. It was pointed out that people with higher salaries would get a larger raise if everyone was given the same percentage. "I think the employees will like this better," said Lee Riedel, county clerk.
In another salary-related issue, the role of Raleigh Measom was discussed by commissioners. Measom told the commissioners that "in my absence," they had a discussion concerning the salary he is paid for being in charge of subdivision regulations in the county. Last week, the commissioners voted to change his compensation from $6,000 to $7,008, which would have been the 8 percent raise. But Measom said there is a lot of work involved in subdivision regulations and he felt his compensation should be $10,000 annually. "I feel it's a just fee," said Measom. "I am asking you to set it at $10,000 and move forward."
Bird asked Measom if he was working at least 20 hours per week on subdivision regulations and compliance. "If I weren't doing it, I would be more than content where I am," said Measom, who then asked for another vote on the matter.
La Fleur said he agreed with Measom's reasoning, pointing out if the county had to hire someone for the position, they would have to provide a vehicle and many other things, which would be more costly in the long run. Commissioner Bud Wuest made a motion to raise the salary to $10,000 and it passed unanimously. In another matter involving Measom, he lectured county auditor Becky Weston about comments she made during the budget workshop last week concerning one of his patrol vehicles. "If you have concerns, you should look at the regulations," said Measom. Weston had stated that Measom is driving a county-purchased vehicle but that it doesn't have "Gonzales County" on the side of the vehicle.
"There sheriff and I have the right to have unmarked vehicles," said Measom. "You should be clear about what you say before you say it."
Another salary matter was also discussed by commissioners and it concerned the three justices of the peace in the county.
Each JP makes a different salary, though the difference is narrow. In the current budget, Judge Darrell Becker of Precinct earns $32,602 per year. Judge1 Evelyn Melcer in Precinct 3 earns $31,545 and Judge Don Setliff in Precinct 4 earns $31,450 per year. Melcer asked the commissioners if they were going to consider equal pay for the justices.
Bird explained the reasoning, in his opinion, was that Precinct 1, which includes Gonzales, has a lot more civil cases and it also represents a lot more voters than the other two precincts."I bring in three times what he does for the county," said Melcer. Setliff said many of the civil cases never go to court and are settled beforehand." All three judges have the same responsibility, regardless of how many cases we hear," said Setliff. "I don't think you are justified to base it on the amount of money we bring in." "I really don't blame them," said commissioner Donnie Brzozowski. "I think they should all get the same."Setliff said it would "be like" the four county commissioners getting different salaries.
Bird then said the county commission districts are based on equal amounts of roads and other duties, meaning they are equal jobs. He also then said the issue could be revisited during redistricting. Bird said the county could simply make two constable positions and two justice of the peace positions and split the county in half.
"It's just a thought," said Bird. "I would make things even". in the end, the commissioners voted 3-1 to make the salaries of all justices of the peace the same. All will be paid the same as Becker in Precinct 1.
Another major issue which still has to be resolved by commissioners is where to set the tax rate. Last week, they had discussed setting it at .6450 per $100 of assessed valuation. But on Monday, they decided to propose setting the rate at .6562, which is the same as the current fiscal year. "That may be what we need to go with," said Bird.
Whiddon said the county can always lower the rate but it cannot be increased once it is advertised. "We can always go down," said Whiddon.
Commissioners voted to go with the current rate and it passed 4-0.
The next step in the process is to plug in the new numbers which were discussed at Monday's meeting and then have the public hearing next Tuesday about the tax rates and all of the proposals within the budget. That meeting will be held at 9 a.m. in the commissioner's courtroom on the first floor of the courthouse in Gonzales.