By Kathi Bliss
Many Caldwell County employees feel as though they have won an important battle this week, after Caldwell County Commissioners voted on Monday to approve a plan to increase Caldwell County employee salaries by several thousand dollars over the next five years.
The plan stems from an extensive salary survey performed by Human Resources Director Deborah Kortan this summer and aims to increase employee salaries to levels that are comparable to other counties and cities in the region.
While most employees and department heads have been thrilled with the developments, some elected officials, such as District Clerk Tina Morgan, have bristled at the salary survey, suggesting it was prepared in an unfair manner which “padded” some employee positions, while intentionally keeping other salaries low.
Kortan said she prepared the survey for employees by asking the organizations within driving distance from Caldwell County, including city and county governments, to disclose employee salary levels. She made that decision, she said, because those are the organizations to which Caldwell County loses employees, particularly from the Sheriff’s Department. She then used the “midpoint” of those salary ranges to determine appropriate salaries for Caldwell County employees.
Of note, for some departments, those figures include the salaries paid by Hays and Travis Counties, and the Cities of Austin and San Marcos. In one case, the figures also include El Paso County.
Some Commissioners bucked against the survey as well, noting it includes pay increases up to $50,000 for some employees, while many other positions, the lower-end, lowest-paid employees, will get much less. Commissioner Neto Madrigal, for instance, noted that the County created four positions last year, two of whom will receive pay increases upwards of $10,000 in the coming budget year as a result of the plan on the table for discussion. The third of those positions is due for a $6,600 raise and the fourth, $4,300.
His concern, Madrigal said, is that the County should take care of those in the most need first, and wait until later to equalize the pay for those on the upper end of the spectrum.
In the end, the Commissioners voted to enact a tiered pay increase plan, under which employee positions will receive 20 percent salary increases each year for the next five years.
Additionally, they voted that this year, because the proposed budget already called for a $2,000 pay increase for each employee, they will give a $2,000 increase or 20 percent of the salary differential, whichever is the highest.
While some employees will see higher raises, in most cases, employees will receive the $2,000 initially proposed.
It is important to note that although the currently-seated Commissioners approved the five-year plan, it is more a suggestion than a promise. While the Court noted they intend to continue the plan through the full five years, they conceded they could only continue with the plan as long as the budgets for the County hold and the funds are available.
Additionally, however, because a seated Court cannot encumber future Courts, the 20 percent increase approved on Monday must be re-approved annually by the seated Commissioners.
The Court also approved a similarly graded pay plan for elected officials.
Kortan performed a similar survey of 36 counties in Texas which have similar population structures to Caldwell County, and used those to determine the proposed pay rates for the elected officials.
County Treasurer Lori Rangel-Pompa asked the Court, prior to their vote, to consider the fact that some elected officials perform their duties as a full-time job, and suggested they consider the same set of figures used to determine employee pay increases. However, the Court decided instead to use the 36-county averages.
Under that plan, as well, elected officials may see large pay increases over the next five years. This year, however, officials will see pay increases between $3,200 and $4,100, depending upon the position. County Judge Tom Bonn will receive a $3,146 pay increase, while the four Commissioners will receive $3,397.
Budget talks within the Commissioners Court will continue, with public hearings set in late August (Aug. 20 and Aug. 27) to discuss the proposed tax rate for the 2012-2013 fiscal year budget.
Follow the County’s budget developments weekly in the Post-Register, or visit us online at www.post-register.com.