By Kathi Bliss
During a marathon meeting on Monday, the Caldwell County Commissioners Court covered a broad spectrum of routine business, and one issue that was a bit of a surprise to some members of the Court.
After his review earlier this summer of the County’s budget, Caldwell County Judge Tom Bonn asked the other court members to approve a Request for Proposal from emergency medical service providers to possibly replace the current EMS agreements with the City of Luling and the City of Lockhart.
Under the current agreements with the county municipalities, Caldwell County’s budget covers one-half of the operational expenses for Luling/Caldwell County EMS and Lockahrt/Caldwell County EMS. In return for that payment, Luling and Lockhart provide EMS service to the rural areas of Caldwell County.
Bonn said this year those agreements will cost the county upwards of $381,000 for EMS service. His hope, as expressed to the Commissioners, is to “protect the Caldwell County taxpayers from these excessive EMS service costs.”
A portion of his concern, it seems, stems from the City of Lockhart’s recent refusal to enter an agreement for EMS service management with the Seton Family of Hospitals. A portion of that agreement would have capped operational losses at $250,000 for the first several years, making the county’s contribution $125,000. However, EMS employees, medical providers and other members of the Lockhart community expressed grave concern about the proposal and caused the Lockhart City Council to vote against entering the agreement.
At that time, this spring, Commissioner Joe Roland appeared before the Lockhart City Council and said he was unaware of the possibility of the proposal, but suggested he did not support it at that time.
It was left unclear after Monday’s meeting whether the Court’s intention is to provide a countywide EMS service for only unincorporated areas, or whether that service would enter an agreement with Luling and Lockhart’s existing EMS providers. It was also unclear what such an agreement might entail, or how revocation of the existing agreement between the County and the cities might affect the budgets and taxpayers within those cities.
Bonn did express a desire to move forward with requesting a proposal for the service, so if the Court chooses to change direction, they can do so prior to the beginning of the coming fiscal year.
In other business, the Court engaged in an initial, cursory review of the budget Bonn presented for review and approval on July 29. Discussion was open to allow the Court to hear the concerns of department heads, but the public was instructed that they would likely be allowed to speak to the proposed budget until a hearing scheduled on Sept. 26.
Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel Law said he was concerned about the budget as it was presented, because it includes allocations for not only the $1,000 cost of living adjustment being extended to all county employees and elected officials, but also funds for merit raises for certain employees.
Law said he had not been told merit pay increases were a possibility in this budget cycle, so he did not figure any such amounts into his budget requests.
Caldwell County Treasurer Lori Rangel-Pompa also expressed concern that her budget had been significantly decreased, with her training and postage expenses being decreased by more than 60 percent, and her personnel budget being slashed by more than half.
“Does this mean that when you start the Human Resources Department, you’re going to pick which one of my clerks goes there,” she asked. “Because the salary you’ve got budgeted for me is [less than the current head clerk is paid.]”
Roland and Commissioner Neto Madrigal urged the Court to take a second look at the budget for the Treasurer’s Office and make adjustments as necessary.
Additional discussions about the proposed budget are expected in the near future.
In brief news:
The Court engaged in a sometimes-heated discussion about the recent decision to work on a paving project on County Road 115 (Westwood Road). The project had drawn criticism from some county residents because both Bonn and Commissioner John Cyrier own property on Westwood Road.
They took part in a redistricting workshop and discussion about the new drawings for the proposed proposed redistricting plan..
The Commissioners approved an order for an interlocal agreement between the City of Lockhart and Caldwell County for a joint election slated Nov. 8, 2011.
The Caldwell County Commissioners Court meets on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the conference room at the L.W. Scott Annex, 1403 Blackjack St. in Lockhart. The meetings are open to the public, and concerned stakeholders are encouraged to attend.