Salary grievance settled; Commissioners OK budget with pay raise agreement

3% Raises Granted

By Becky Brewster

Culberson County Commissioners met in Regular Session on September 10. The courtroom was crowded to hear the Court’s determination on a salary grievance filed by District/County Clerk Linda McDonald.

The proposed 2018-2019 salaries for elected county officials. Previously published in the VHA on August 16, 2018.
The proposed 2018-2019 salaries for elected county officials. Previously published in the VHA on August 16, 2018.

McDonald met with the Salary Grievance Committee on September 6, 2018 to present her case involving a $5,000/year salary increase request that was denied by the Court in August. Commissioners had agreed to refrain from granting salary increases to elected officials for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, but then granted a 9% increase for JP#1 contrary to this decision. The Salary Grievance Committee is only available for elected officials. McDonald outlined the increasing duties and responsibilities of her office, including additional election duties, filing and reporting requirements, and dramatically increased use of her office by landmen due to the oil and gas exploration noting that she also had over 30 years of experience in office. County Attorney Steve Mitchell presented a comparison of area County Clerk salaries for review. The Committee voted 8-1 to recommend to the Commissioners that the increase be granted.

The Commissioners reviewed the recommendation of the Salary Grievance Committee, and it appeared that the general consensus was to confirm the Court’s prior determination denying the requested salary increase. Com. Gilda Morales stated that McDonald is “deserving of at least $5,000…she works really hard as does her staff.” However, Morales further stated that “all is all” referring to the decision to not grant raises to elected officials. McDonald reminded the Court that one elected official did get a 9% raise. Morales stated that “if there are no raises for elected officials, maybe there will be more dollars left for employees who always get the short end of the stick.” After continued debate, a surprising turn-around had the Court voting 3-2 to grant the raise to McDonald.

From here, the Commissioners jumped into another debate concerning employee raises. The proposed budget presented to the Court for adoption did not have any raises included. Morales noted that the County is not staying competitive with area employers. Com. Cornelio Garibay stated that he would like to see how much money would have to come from savings to cover raises before making a decision. Com. Adrian Norman stated that he “took an oath to take care of the County for the general good” noting that his background in business indicates to him that dipping into savings to cover raises in not fiscally prudent. Com. Raul Rodriquez stated emphatically that he wanted to give a 5% raise, and they could come up with the funds somewhere.

County Auditor Mark Cabezuela gave a warning to the Court to be very careful, noting the County is at a crossroads. This is the first year since he has been working for the County that there will not be a carryover into the next fiscal year. Cabezuela reported that money will have to be taken from savings to handle the expenses for September estimating that after a payment for the Nutrition Center, two payrolls and regular expenses, the general fund will be $300-$400K short. He noted that the proposed budget, without raises, is already pulling $688,000 from savings to balance the budget. Cabezuela did note that the Road and Bridge fund, unlike the General Fund, is very healthy; however, most of the salaries come from the General Fund.

Judge Carlos Urias reminded the Court that the County has a huge liability in the north part of the County due to the increased gas and oil production, but that no additional funds were allocated this year. Urias acknowledged that the “auditor could not have made it any clearer…but that the County can start tightening belts next year.” Urias indicated his support for granting some type of raise to regular employees.

The Court directed the auditor to work up two budget proposals: one including the increase granted to the County Clerk and one including a proposed 3% raise for regular employees. The Court recessed the meeting to allow the auditor time to make the requested changes to the budget.

The Commissioners reconvened at 9:00 a.m. on September 11, to review two proposed budgets. A motion to adopt the proposed budget without salary increases failed by a vote of 2-3. A second motion to adopt the proposed budget with a 3% raise for full-time employees (not including elected officials) passed by a vote of 3-2. Following the adoption of the FY 2018-2019 budget, the Court adopted the 2018 Tax Rate of $0.18531/$100 valuation.

In other County business, the Court also:

• Heard a report from the County Extension Agent on 4-H activities.

• Approved a contract extension with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension for IT.

• Discussed the 2016 TxCDBG grant program status noting the contract deadline is September 14.

• Renewed the Vendor Agreement with the RGCOG Area Agency on Aging for 2018-2019 for the Nutrition Center.

• Selected County Auditor Mark Cabezuela as the County’s representative for the System for Award Management.

• Approved an extended warranty with Hart Intercivic for the electronic voting system.

• Nominated Jodi Corrales for the Culberson County Appraisal District Board.

• Requested a demonstration for a proposed new electronic voting system.

• Approved amending the Court schedule to have two regular meetings for July, August, and September for the budget cycle each year.

• Discussed the appointment of election judges for the November 6 election.

• Set 2018 Tax Discounts for property taxes collected in October/November/December.

• Ratified action taken at a Special meeting on 8-27-18 regarding a vote to set salaries, expenses and other allowances of elected county and precinct officers.

• Heard reports on various County Projects.

• Approved monthly reports.

• Approved monthly payroll and expenses for August and payment of current bills.