Budget passes over strong objections: Roland calls spending on new positions ‘crooked’
By LPR Staff
After nearly an hour of heated protest from elected officials, employees and county taxpayers, and amid accusation and argument among members of the Court, the Caldwell County Commissioners passed a
k”>budget for the coming year in a nearly-unprecedented split 3-2 vote.
Central to the objections over the budget prepared and proposed this summer by County Judge Tom Bonn and civil attorney Ron Heggemeier is the creation of three new positions, a Human Resources Director and a County Administrator, both with budgeted salaries upwards of $70,000, and a Commissioners Court Judicial Assistant.
Creation of two new departments accompanies the creation of the new positions, and projected expenditures in the two departments are expected to near $315,000. Those funds, according to Commissioner Neto Madrigal, who refused to vote for the budget as it was presented, would have been better spent raising employee salaries.
That sentiment was echoed by more than a dozen individuals who spoke against the creation of the new positions, including District Clerk Tina Morgan and Caldwell County Treasurer Lori Rangel-Pompa. A standing-room-only crowd of county employees and taxpayers cheered comments in favor of revamping the proposed budget, and heckled Bonn and Commissioners John Cyrier and Fred Buchholtz when they spoke in favor of passing the budget as it was presented.
“This proposed budget is an insult to the employees that have come to you… asking for an increase in their pay,” Morgan said.
In an effort to help with the pay scale, Bonn had said earlier in the meeting, the budget included a $1,600 across-the-board increase for county employees, and a $1,000 raise for elected officials – with the exception of Bonn, whose pay was bumped $5,174 per year.
That increase, and rumors that Heggemeier would be in line for the County Administrator position, were the source of much of the tension and disappointment swirling around the budget.
“This budget is crooked,” Commissioner Joe Roland finally said. “It’s just not right. Travis County doesn’t even have a County Administrator, so why in the world do we need one? I’m concerned about this budget, and the way it’s been done – how can we advertise for positions before we even approve them?”
Roland’s tirade drew applause from the gallery, and indignance from Bonn, who said Roland was making a “tall accusation,” and informed the gallery that his past record indicates he is a “champion” of county employees and attempting to get the county’s pay scales increased to be more comparable with other counties in the area.
Although several members of the community expressed concern about spending in other areas, the lion’s share of Monday’s public hearings was questioning the need for creating the positions.
Morgan told the Commissioners that she had researched the matter, and there was no other county in the state with a population between 25,000 and 49,000 with a county administrator. In fact, she said, most Texas counties do not have the position, and those that do are generally high-density urban areas, such as Dallas and Tarrant counties.
Rangel-Pompa reminded the Court that she had offered to take Human Resources training and become certified to handle human resources issues with no extra-duty pay, and said she was told the county had no need for a certified human resources professional.
Both Cyrier and Buchholtz said they were in support of the budget, but that they hoped spending had been over-estimated, and that the budget could be amended mid-year to offer additional bonuses or pay increases to the employees.
After nearly 90 minutes of discussion, the budget was passed with Bonn, Cyrier and Buchholtz voting in favor, and Roland and Madrigal against.
The controversial positions were posted as “internal openings” on the third-floor bulletin board in the Caldwell County Courthouse on Tuesday, with a closing date slated Sept. 30. If no qualified candidates are found internally, the notices said, a broader posting will be opened to the public. The Human Resources position has been posted since July. Only the human resources posting was available on the County’s website, as of Wednesday morning.
The posting for the County Court Administrator position suggests that individual will be responsible for oversight of several departments, including building maintenance, the unit road system, 9-1-1, sanitation and permitting, indigent health care, environmental control and enforcement and homeland security. Other areas of responsibility may be added as a need arises, according to the posting.