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County policies reviewed as budget talks continue

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By LPR Staff

Editor/POST-REGISTER

As the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court prepares to move forward with budget preparations for the coming year, they are reviewing a series of policy changes that might have a strong impact on the way the county does business.

During a brief meeting of the Commissioners’ Court on Monday, judge Tom Bonn suggest

ed sweeping changes to the cell phone policy for county employees. Currently, the county provides portable phones for dozens of employees and officials, including Bonn and the Commissioners, several employees of the Sheriff’s Department and a number of others.

Historically, that phone usage has been strictly monitored, and employees have been asked to review the bills to differentiate between personal usage and business use.

Under the new policy proposed on Monday, all employees would be asked turn in their county-owned equipment by the end of October. Rather than be provided with county phones, they would be asked to provide their own phones and be paid a stipend to offset those costs.

Sheriff Daniel Law expressed concern about the new policy, reminding the Court that some employees of his department are required to carry cellular phones by the nature of their jobs, and asked if the stipends would completely offset those costs.

Bonn said he would be responsible for reviewing the job-related usage and determining the level of stipend employees would receive. They will likely not be reimbursed, however, for equipment purchase costs or deposits that might be required for service.

Commissioner Joe Roland asked the measure to be tabled for a future meeting, stating he had additional questions about the policy, which he had not had the opportunity to research.

The Court also reviewed the existing sick leave policy, which in the past has allowed employees to incur a “negative balance” of sick time.

After five years of service with the County, employees currently accrue sick time, and are allowed a 10-day “negative balance” to offset additional absences. However, over the years, those balances have not been cleared.

Generally, employees earn about .8 hours of sick leave per month. Moving forward, that time will be applied toward closing out those negative balances, and bringing the employees back up to level.

In other business, Commissioners Fred Buchholtz and John Cyrier offered a recommendation for an independent contractor to be hired by the county for three months to complete certain maintenance functions in the Caldwell County Courthouse.

The approved contractor, James Turner, was among the nine individuals who put in an application when the Court put out an advertisement for a position which Buchholtz called “Mr. Courthouse,” a dedicated contractor working directly under Bonn and performing duties only in the historic Caldwell County Courthouse.

Although Buchholtz said there would be a position available for Turner as a county employee at the end of the initial three-month contract period, that position has not yet been voted upon by the Court, nor is it approved in the upcoming fiscal year budget.

In the meantime, the contract with Turner allocates payment of $1,766 for July, and $2,600 per month for August and September, at which time the agreement will be reconsidered.

Bonn asked Buchholtz and Cyrier to submit a defined list of tasks and work expected of Turner over the next three months. The contract cost will be paid with certificate of obligation funds acquired by the Court last year for the specific purpose of Courthouse maintenance and renovations.

In brief news:

The Court discussed the outcome of a recent safety study performed on county buildings. According to County Treasurer Lori Rangel-Pompa, the study focused on employee safety including, but not limited to fire drill plans, escape routes, storage and office space.

They approved an interlocal agreement with the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) for PSAP maintenance, operations and training.

They approved a service contract for $1,500 with Gene Galbraith for the maintenance of the Caldwell County Courthouse Clock. Although Buchholtz had initially suggested clock maintenance might be something the Court could assign to Turner under his contract agreement, the other Commissioners balked at the idea, acknowledging that the antique clock is a specialized piece of equipment that requires a trained and experienced professional to maintain properly.

The Commissioners approved a series of budget amendments.

The County paid bills in the amount of $173,715.49, which includes $6,190.32 in indigent legal defense fees.

The Caldwell County Commissioners meet on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the conference and training room at the Scott Annex, 1403 Blackjack St., in Lockhart. The meetings are open to the public and interested residents and stakeholders are encouraged to attend.

kathibliss@post-register.

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