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Commissioners' Court Reverses Its Decision

Opposes GCAD budget amendment

Published Feb. 22, 2012 @ 8:48 p.m.

The agenda for the Garza County Commissioners’ Court called meeting February 22 contained 3 items; however, the majority of the meeting focused on the first agenda item:  “Discuss and review the amended budget for Garza County Appraisal District.”  The Appraisal District Board of Directors asked for the amendment to provide needed funds to initiate a raise in salary for the Garza Central Appraisal District 3-person staff.  (see complete story at http://www.garzapost.com/news/)

According to the minutes of the regular monthly Commissioners’ Court meeting February 13, the Court voted 3 to 2 “to accept and support the GCAD budget amendment.”  However, following that meeting, one of the Commissioners who voted in favor of the budget amendment asked that the Court revisit the issue.

Precinct 3 County Commissioner Ted Brannon explained during Wednesday’s meeting, “I seconded the motion [at the Feb. 13 meeting] and voted ‘yes’ for this increase.  An hour later I knew I had made the wrong decision.  Whatever the consequences, I have to make this right within myself.”  

During discussion between many of the dozen or so attending the meeting Wednesday, there was no disagreement as to whether the work load in the appraisal office or the quality of work by the staff might warrant a pay raise.  The core issues raised at the called meeting were:  

  • how to handle an increase in a budget year when county employees received no pay increase and 4 county jobs were cut.
  • whether the proposed pay increases could be granted in increments during the next 3 to 5 years instead of all at one time.
  • the problem created because the timing of the proposed pay increases was after the 2012-2013 budget had been adopted.

County Judge Lee Norman opened the meeting by explaining that the meeting was called at the request of a Commissioner to review the previous decision.  He called on Jeff Lott from the GCAD Board of Directors to address the Court.

Lott explained that the GCAD Board met on February 21 and in that meeting, the group decreased expenses by making a larger payment on the Appraisal District’s GPS mapping system this year, reducing next year’s payment.  This action meant that the county’s portion of this year’s amended budget would be $1123.96 “spread over 3 salaries” instead of $2000 as originally requested.  Lott also explained that this would affect next year’s county portion, reducing it to $5263 from approximately $10,000.  “You can have a ‘do over’ this week, but this changing weekly is making it difficult for us to do our job.”

In response to a comment from the audience that the increase in salaries “is too big of a jump,” Lott responded, “I agree it is too big of a jump.  But we’ve overworked and overpaid these ladies [GCAD staff] too long.  It would have been nice if we had done this a long time ago.  We are trying to right a wrong.”

“You can paint this as ugly as you want but we’re asking for about $1000 this year and $5000 next year.  Pay is based on merit and responsibility of this job.  The job warrants the increase,”  Lott continued.  “Let me make it very clear:  those ladies never asked for a raise.”

After many comments regarding how the Chief Appraiser job opening was posted and what options the GCAD would have if the office was without a Chief Appraiser, Judge Norman reiterated his concern about supporting large salary increases for this entity at this time.  “No county employees received a pay increase and, in fact, jobs were cut.  Maybe Garza Central Appraisal District does need to go up [on salaries].  Maybe they should consider this when there is time to handle it in an appropriate way.”

“By your own admission you want us to fix your mistake all at one time,” Commissioner Brannon said, addressing Lott.  “This is 'sticker shock' to taxpayers.”  Referring to the fact that the GCAD budget is supported by 6 taxing entities, Brannon said, “How we divide it doesn’t matter.  It all comes from the taxpayer’s back pocket.”  Brannon further explained that it would be better if the budget increase could be spread over 3 to 5 years.  “Could this be approached in a different manner?  Do we have to do this right now?”

Post ISD School Board representative Milton Williams and David Stelzer both expressed agreement with a plan to spread the salary increases over more time.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Gary McDaniel asked whether there was a middle ground that the current employee would agree to.  “I’m concerned we’ll shoot ourselves in the foot on this and have to pay more later for a qualified person.”

Wayne Edwards, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Garza County Health Care District, said that in that group’s meeting this week, their board voted unanimously not to approve the GCAD budget amendment.  Edwards explained, “In these tough economic times, our indigent care costs are up 4 or 5 times over the past few years.  We feel this amount of money is too much.”

“I made the motion [to approve the budget amendment] last time and I was mad at Ted for changing his mind,” Commissioner McDaniel said.  “I’ve heard from a lot of people, most are against this.  I try to represent the people.” 

Precinct 2 Commissioner Charles Morris agreed.  “I’ve heard from folks, too and most feel I voted the right way [in the previous meeting].  I still oppose it.”

Judge Norman ended the hour-long discussion by calling for a vote from the Commissioners.  A motion was made by Commissioner Morris and seconded by Commissioner Brannon to oppose the amended budget for the Garza Appraisal District as presented.  Morris, Brannon, Judge Norman and McDaniel voted with the motion to oppose the amended budget.  Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jerry Benham voted against the motion (in favor of the amended budget).

Next the Commissioners voted to send the current Garza County Policy and Procedure Manual to the Texas Association of Counties to review and suggest changes.  The Court also approved a resolution to extend the time in which the county has to act upon the application of the Buffalo Wind Tax abatement.

The Commissioners’ Court will meet for a regular meeting Monday, February 27, 9 a.m.   All Commissioners’ Court meetings are open to the public and each meeting agenda includes a time for comments from citizens.

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