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Salary schedule proposal root of potential tension among county officials


By Greg Peak

LIVINGSTON – A battle over a salary appeared to be brewing Tuesday when Pct. 1 Commissioner Bob Willis proposed changing the Polk County salary schedule to grant his office manager a 5 percent merit raise. The proposal drew immediate opposition from County Judge Sydney Murphy who argued before such action is taken, the commissioners should examine the full implications of the change. Following a discussion between the judge and commissioner, an agreement was reached to postpone Willis' proposal to give Murphy an opportunity to present the commissioners with information on the impact of the change. The county currently uses a 20- step pay system and Willis' office manager is currently maxed out at step 20, or $47,740. The proposed 5 percent -- or two step -- increase would push that to over $50,000, which Murphy pointed out would be more than most of the elected county officials. "You already have some employees that make more than the elected officials," Willis noted. "Yes, we do," Murphy replied. Willis noted increasing the pay step would apply only to those departments that had the money already in their budgets, adding that such action was taken in the past when similar situations occurred. Murphy agreed it was done in the past, including for the same office manager now being discussed, but cautioned such action had far greater implications for the future that just giving one employee a raise. She noted that by increasing the pay steps from 20 to 22 would have to be applied across the board and in terms of salaries for the county's 10 office managers alone, would create more than a $500,000 payroll liability. The judge added that by allowing merit raises above step 20 only if the department had the money in its budget would effectively limit the increase to the road and bridge departments. Precinct commissioners have the authority to move money from expense items such as the purchase of road materials over to salary should they chose to do so while every other county department head is not allowed that power. "If you wanted to do so, you could use all of your budget for salaries and not provide any services," Murphy said. "Yes, I could," Willis said. The only thing limiting such a move is the county's salary schedule which restricts all officials on what they can pay individual employees and how much of a raise can be granted. Murphy argued that expanding the step system without properly examining its future impact on the county's salary liability could result in either a future property tax increase or the downgrading of services provided to the public. Under the step system, new hires are placed at the lower levels depending on their experience -- usually at steps 1-3. They are they given merit raises by increasing their step level, which under current county rules can be up to two steps per year with each step representing about a 2.5 percent pay increase. Based on information obtained through an open records request from the Polk County Enterprise, Willis' office manager is the only county employee currently maxed out at step 20. The salaries of the nine other office managers range from step 1 -- $30,062.47 -- up to step 6 -- $33,962.09. Murphy noted the county spent "tens of thousands of dollars" to have experts come in and set up the salary schedule based on what other area counties are paying their employees and what other entities such as the Trinity River Authority and the Texas Department of Transportation pay theirs. "The idea behind that study is to remain competitive for experienced employees," she said. "It may be time for us to reexamine the salary schedule and we can do that at a future meeting." Prior to the study, the county operated under a 12-step payroll system. After the study was implemented in 2002, the 12-step system remained in place but was expanded to 14 in 2006 under a transitional system included in the study. In 2012, the commissioners went beyond the study and voted to increase the schedule to 20 steps after one or two employees reached the then maximum of 14. After Murphy made a motion that effectively would have left the maximum pay schedule at step 20, none of the other commissioners offered a second. Willis, however, agreed to postpone a motion to grant a two-step increase to his office manager until the next meeting to allow the judge time to give the commissioners information about the possible impact of the change. Voting locations During the meeting, commissioners approved two changes in the polling places used for primary and general elections. Voting Precinct 16, which had been located at VFW Post 8568 north of Livingston, has been moved to the First Pentecostal Church, 404 E. Church in Livingston. Voting Precinct 14, which had been at the Indian Springs Property Owners Association building, has been relocated to the Soda Baptist Church, 8135 U.S. 190, near Livingston. The changes were needed because the VFW post was recently sold and the Indian Spring POA building sustained damage in a fire. Other business During the meeting, commissioners also: • Were introduced to Brandon Preston, the county's new minority representative on the Deep East Texas Council of Government's board of directors. Preston was recently elected to the post by a vote of the minority residents of the county. • Approved the sale of lots seized for the nonpayment of taxes in precincts 1 and 4. The sale included two lots in the Mangum Estates subdivision, one lot in the Indian Springs subdivision and four lots in the Big Thicket subdivision.


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