County gambles on ’14-‘15 budget
By LPR Staff
Deficit budgets are not just ill-advised, they are illegal in some circumstances, according to advice given to the Caldwell County Commissioners Court by County Auditor Larry Roberson.
However, despite Roberson’s stern warning, the Commissioners Court voted during a marathon meeting on Thursday a
fternoon to pass a budget that the County may not be able to fund. The concern has boiled over after a “promise” by Sheriff Daniel Law to stop housing Federal Inmates at the Caldwell County Jail, a move that could cost the County nearly a million dollars in revenues.
Law and Caldwell County Judge Tom Bonn have exchanged harsh words in recent weeks regarding the budget, specifically the fact that Bonn prepared the coming fiscal year’s budget without enacting the third tier of a five-step pay plan originally enacted in 2012. The money simply was not available, Bonn said, to offer the full third-tier raise; he did, however, work in a $1,000 per year salary increase for all county employees, with an additional $1,000 mid-year pay increase for any employee making less than $30,000 per year.
Those increases, Law said, were not enough to keep employees from leaving the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department, thus reducing the number of properly trained deputies and jailers and creating a safety concern within the jail, particularly with regard to the Federal Inmate Housing.
Therefore, Law said, he would simply stop housing the inmates, if the budget did not include the third-tier pay increase.
From a financial perspective, Roberson expressed strong concern about building a budget based upon revenues that are not guaranteed, and suggested the Commissioners re-work the budget, removing the Federal Inmate revenue from the equation.
“It will be painful this year,” he said. Still, he said, the move would put the County in a less precarious position if the Sheriff followed through on his promise to stop housing the inmates, or if the US Marshal Service opted to move them to another location for any other reason.
Commissioner Alfredo Munoz urged his colleagues to find a long-term solution to the potential funding crisis, whether it be through budget cuts or a tax-rate increase.
“If we pass this budget as it is, I can see us just being in the same position, in October, or in January,” he said. “It’s not going to do us any good to kick the can down the road.”
Regardless, with one change to the budget, removing the position of a County Engineer, the Commissioners voted 4-1 to pass the budget as it was proposed, with Munoz standing alone against it.
The rest of Thursday’s meeting was tied up in a workshop process to discuss amendments to the Caldwell County Development Ordinance, a discussionthat spilled over to Monday’s regular meeting after several hours of Thursday evening discussion.
Those proposed amendments, which have drawn both vocal support and marked concern from members of the community center in large part around the notion of tightening the restrictions around building in or near the 100-year flood plain.
After hearing lengthy comments from several members of the community, many of which focused specifically on the Green Group Holdings landfill proposal, the Commissioners opted to form a citizen committee to continue workshopping the proposed amendments.
They did make the confusing decision, however, to approve a Takings Impact Assessment based on the amendments prior to the amendments being reviewed by the committee, which has not yet been appointed. The Commissioners are expected to bring four nominations each to their next meeting on Monday, Sept. 15.
The Caldwell County Commissioners routinely meet on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the Conference and Training Room at the LW Scott Annex. The meetings are open to the public and are available for viewing at www.co.caldwell.tx.us.