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By Tony Farkas
COLDSPRING — The elected officials of San Jacinto County will not only get a hefty raise for the coming fiscal year, as well as an increase, or in some cases added, in travel allowances.
Gerald Deeter, speaking at the grievance hearing on Oct. 4, said he was concerned that the raise was approved away from the public eye, as well as the work hours and accountability of the commissioners.
Ray McCoppin said he was concerned about the elected officials receiving raises, not so much the hourly rate but the increase in car allowances.
Other residents complained about the seeming lack of transparency on the part of the county in pushing through the raises in the budget.
Commissioner Laddie McAnnally told the committee that while travel allowances were added or increased, mileage reimbursements were removed.
County Judge Fritz Faulkner said the county is trying to address pay inequities and employees retention, as many departments were seeing employees leave because of poor pay and rising costs of living.
Speaking in favor of the raises, Judge Greg McGee said as things stand now, his clerk makes a higher salary than he does.
The vote was unanimous, meaning the raises will be allowed and will not require any vote by the County Commissioners’ Court.
At the Sept. 21 meeting, residents berated the court for voting themselves a $6,240 raise at the last budget session, saying commissioners already make $66,000 for 32 hours a week of work, since the commissioners don’t have to punch a timeclock.
Additionally, the salary schedule that did not reflect raises was published as per state law, and residents felt those raises should be rescinded.
Faulkner said in the original budget proposal, there was no money for raises; however, the Sheriff’s Office obtained a contract for housing other counties’ prisoners, which will generate enough revenue to allow for raises.
He also said that auditors felt the raises were not handled properly, and the court discussed the matter with several entities, including the District Attorney’s Office and the Texas Association of Counties, and the recommendation was to form a grievance committee, since those raises are now in the final budget.
The letter states that Texas Law requires prior published notice of proposed raises for elected officials, and that those raises could not be paid out. However, the law also states that the commissioners could appeal that decision through the grievance committee.
At Oct. 5 regular meeting of the court, Deeter again discussed the county’s spending habits.
“Sometimes I wonder if I’m actually in San Jacinto County, and I wonder if the County Treasurer has a money machine the way the commissioners spend money,” he said.
Deeter pointed out the cost for a 2022 3500HD work truck seems exorbitant; the price the commissioners were to discuss was $49,989, but the vehicle listed on the internet at $46,000.
Deeter said the county should consider pooling its equipment instead of outdoing each other in purchases.
“You pulled it off with your raises; you’re now making $77,000 a year,” Deeter said. “I wonder if you’re worth it.”
The county did approve the purchase, saying the price difference was because the truck in question had specific add-ons that raised the price.
Ray McCoppin said the county isn’t following its budget, and five days into the new fiscal year the county will be looking at budget amendments.
In other business, the court:
•approved the 2023 holiday calendar;
•approved the 2023 Commissioners’ Court calendar;
•approved the Indigent Defense Grant Program formula, with Commissioner Mark Nettuno abstaining;
•proclaimed October as Childhood Development Month;
•approved the rehire of James Brooks at the San Jacinto County Jail;
•tabled a donation of land from Steve Beshear;
•approved a fee of $150 for all maintenance done on cell towers, due to change in flood plain maps, with County Judge Fritz Faulkner voting against the measure;
•declared road equipment as salvage to be sold by Rene Bates Auctioneers;
•approved contracted services and materials bids for the Road Department;
•re-approved an interlocal agreement with Shepherd Independent School District;
•approved spending $1 million grant funds through the American Rescue Plan Act on Courthouse renovation and $450,000 for each road district for paving projects;
•approved an $86,072 change order for Timberline Construction on the county’s Innovation Center;
•accepted the donation of a 500-gallon oil tank from Shannon West;
•approved the purchase of a 25-foot trailer for $13,500;
•approved the renewal of worker’s compensation plan; and
•approved issuing a notice to proceed on the Innovation Center.