By Kathi Bliss
Sparks flew over budgetary concerns during the regular meeting of the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court on Monday morning.
Responding to concerns about the proposed budget for the Caldwell County Appraisal District, Chief Appraiser Carlton Pape and Deputy Chief Mary LaPointe attended the meeting, making themselves available to address concerns about employee pay raises and the contingency fund included in the proposed budget set to be presented to the CCAD Board of Directors on Tuesday.
“We’re in the toughest economy I can ever remember, and you went up 25 percent in your budget,” County Judge HT Wright accused during the meeting. “You originally had $98,000 in contingency funds and a 19 percent increase in salaries.”
Wright reminded Pape that neither Caldwell County nor the City of Lockhart was proposing an employee pay raise for the coming fiscal year, and expressed concern that during a time when Caldwell County taxpayers are losing their jobs and their homes, they were being asked to fund a pay increase for others.
Pape defended his position, reminding the Court that CCAD board policy allows for pay increments for employees as they reach different levels of certification, and explaining that some employees were given additional duties and responsibilities and he intended to increase their pay accordingly.
Questioned about the contingency fund, which the CCAD held at $2,000 last year, Pape said part of that balance was intended to purchase new servers for the computer systems, and that he would change those figures to line item expenses after receiving board approval.
“So what you do is you ask for everything you want and then you cut your budget down?” Wright asked. “Instead of saying this is what I have to do, and I’ve got these funds, and these other things would be helpful.”
Pape, who took over as Chief Appraiser after the current fiscal year’s budget was finalized, said this is his general practice during his first budget year, and when he becomes more familiar with his board and their desires, he will change his process. However, he said, he is bound by law not to discuss matters with his board members outside of posted agendas, so his only way to get his office’s needs across to the board is to place items in the budget for discussion.
“In the meantime, you know better than anyone what the economic status of this county is,” Wright said. “And yet still, your budget has increased this much.”
Although the item was only on the agenda for discussion, the other Commissioners made their positions clear. After the budget is approved by the board, it will return to the Commissioners’ Court and the other taxing entities for their approval. If the taxing entities do not approve the budget, Pape and the CCAD board will have to reevaluate their figures and represent a new budget.
In other business, in response to citizen requests that the Court help neighborhoods enforce deed restrictions, Wright issued a reminder that County Commissioners’ Court power is strictly limited by the Texas Legislature. In fact, he said, the county has no real ordinance-writing ability and very little enforcement ability. He said that problems with deed restrictions between neighbors are best handled as civil matters.
In brief business:
The Court voted to continue the outdoor burning ban.
They heard information about a public meeting scheduled on Tuesday, July 28, to open discussion about possible incorporation of Fentress, Prairie Lea and Stairtown.
The County paid bills in the amount of $246,758.32, which includes $21,341.26 in indigent legal defense fees.
The Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court meets on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in Room 100 of the Caldwell County Courthouse.