Commissioners wade into annual budget

Pay hikes for elected officials discussed

By Becky Brewster

Culberson County Commissioners met in Special Session on July 27, 2020 for the first budget workshop for the FY 2020-2021 budget cycle. The Court began the discussion of possible salary increases for elected officials, noting that this decision must be made by next week in order to meet the public notification requirements. The Court did not have revenue projections nor information on the impact of raises to the budget. They requested that the County Auditor prepare budget scenarios reflecting the impact of various raise proposals for both elected officials and employees for a Special Meeting scheduled for August 3, 2020. Judge Urias noted that the County is in a “solid” financial position, but that the tax situation is uncertain. The Certified Taxable Values for 2020 have increased over last year because they are based on January 1, 2020 when the economy was booming. However, the values could plummet for 2021 if the economy does not bounce back by the end of the year. The dismal economy could also affect when large corporations actually pay their taxes which could impact cash flow for the rest of the calendar year.

County Clerk Linda McDonald presented the results of the Election Security Assessment to the Court noting that the primary recommendation was to separate the County Clerk’s Office and the County Tax Assessor-Collector’s Office from the County network. McDonald reported that she had been attending security webinars through the Secretary of State’s Office, but expressed difficulty in sharing this information with her employees when she doesn’t understand the technical information. McDonald also noted that her office will need new computers soon as the existing computers are outdated and operating on an obsolete platform. As an example, she noted that one of the computers recently crashed during the installation of an update so the office was now operating without enough computers. Judge Carlos Urias indicated that with the mandates relating to network security, and the increased use of technology throughout the County, the County should consider employing an IT person to manage it all. McDonald reported on the upcoming general election reminding the Court that the first payment of $33,447.88 is due in January so will need to be included in the new budget. In closing, McDonald reminded the Court that they needed to provide her with names of persons to work the November election by the next regular meeting. She noted that the Secretary of State is recommending the County’s hire more election workers than usual due to social distancing requirements. McDonald also noted that the Governor has issued a proclamation to add an additional week to early voting by personal appearance to try to reduce crowds at the early voting polling place. She reported that this will be the first election with no straight party voting so voters will need additional time to cast the ballot.

Urias informed the Court on the need to maintain the security at the front door of the Courthouse, noting that the position will need to convert to full-time when Phase II of the reopening plan goes into effect and regular hours resume. He anticipates that this may occur as early as September or October. Security measures will also be expanded at the JP#1 office. Urias noted that any expenditures related to COVID-19 are reimbursable. McDonald reported that the District Judges are scheduling jury trials for September and October, noting that if social distancing requirements are still in place, the court sessions may have to be relocated to the Convention Center.

In other County business, the Court also:

Heard reports on various County Projects.

Acknowledged that the AWOS installation is underway, and noted that the airport will remain open during upcoming construction activities.