By Kathi Bliss
A hefty agenda and a lengthy meeting marked the opening of business for the Caldwell County Commissioners Court on Monday morning. During their first meeting of the year, and the first meeting with newly-elected Commissioner Alfredo Munoz, the Court covered a wide variety of topics, gliding through some and stumbling over others.
The main stumbling block, which drew attention from members of the public and prompted County Judge Tom Bonn to remove one gallery member from the room, was an item which Munoz brought forward for reconsideration after its approval late last year.
The matter of question was a resolution entered by the Court in support of legislative action that will allow the seated District Judges in Caldwell County to set the salary of the County Auditor higher than that of the highest-paid elected official.
Separating the auditor’s salary from the highest-paid elected official is an action that must be taken by the Texas Legislature, and is only reviewed on a county-by-county basis. Other counties of similar size and makeup to Caldwell County have asked their legislators to successfully drive such measures. Based on the Court’s prior approval of the resolution, a bill has already been filed in the Texas House of Representatives.
The measure is necessary, according to District Judge Todd Blomerth, because the Auditor’s position should by all rights be a full-time position, and is presently being paid only a part-time salary. Blomerth, who along with the other District Judges assigned to Caldwell County is responsible for hiring and supervising the County Auditor, said removing the requirement capping the salary will allow for a larger candidate pool for the highly-skilled position.
Munoz said he brought the item back for reconsideration because he was uncomfortable with the idea of increasing the salary for the position, and said he was looking at the controversial issue from a purely fiscal standpoint.
Members of the gallery were more passionate on the matter, urging the Court to rescind the measure because, they said, the idea smacks of “cronyism,” and that the Court should be more focused on increasing pay for the lower end of the pay scale.
Although Caldwell County has for many years had the auditor’s position as a part-time job, based largely on the rate of pay available to County Auditors, the job requires more time and dedication than a part-time job really allows, Blomerth said.
Current County Auditor Larry Roberson noted he originally took the position with the understanding that it was a part-time job, but soon found that he was unable to complete his work while only working on a part-time basis. Still, he said, because he had made the commitment to work for the lower salary, he was going to continue to do the job, regardless of the Court’s action.
Bonn reiterated that the notion of increasing the salary is not tied to one individual, but instead tied to the position. He said it is imperative that the County has a full-time auditor, and that a full-time salary should come with it.
After extensive conversation on the matter, during which Bonn warned a member of the public against speaking out of turn and later had her escorted from the room, the Court voted 3-2 to rescind the resolution.
It was unclear at press time, with the resolution having been rescinded, what impact the Court’s action will have on the already-filed legislation at the State Capitol.
Much of the five-hour meeting on Monday was spent with the parties in attendance spinning their wheels over various construction projects.
First, the Commissioners reviewed and updated contract with Alpha Building Corporation regarding repairs to the Caldwell County Courthouse.
The original contract, entered more than four years ago, has increased substantially in price despite items being removed from the work list by the Court. Originally, in conjunction with the contract for repairs the Court opted to hire a “Mr. Courthouse” dedicated maintenance contractor to work exclusively on the Courthouse.
However, over time, as work on various projects has stalled, that individual has been called to work on other maintenance issues throughout the County. Additionally, the state of disrepair of the windows and some iron work has increased on the building, driving the price for repairs higher.
After much back-and-forth in the discussion, the Commissioners opted to table approving the contract with Alpha until additional review can be done on the needed repair projects.
Any repairs will be funded from the 2010 series of certificates of obligation, which must be used before the end of this year or the county may face punitive consequences.
Potential plans for the renovation of the old WalMart into a new Justice Center also dominated the conversation, as representatives from the architectural firm Steinbomer and Associates came forward with a variety of ideas and plans for the space.
Despite the firm’s request for direction on the project, talks stalled when the building’s stakeholders, including Blomerth, County Court at Law Judge Ed Jarrrett, and the Caldwell County District Clerk and County Clerk said they had not had any opportunity to review the plans and would not be comfortable making any recommendations during Monday’s marathon meeting.
It was revealed, however, that based on current estimates of the space and the cost-per-square-foot of the renovation, the current project budget of $2.4 – $2.6 million will be sufficient to finish only about half of the “wish list” renovations.
Commissioners will meet with the stakeholders in the next few weeks, with the hopes of being able to determine an appropriate course of action by the end of this month.
A public hearing was held in regard to a preliminary plat for the Cherry Ridge Subdivision, which will be located on Spoke Hollow Road between Long Road and FM 20W.
Some neighboring property owners stepped forward to express their concern about increased traffic and development in the area, and the developer answered those concerns as best he was able, within his own business plan, which he said includes breaking the property up into five-acre tracts and putting in restrictions that forbid the installation of single-wide manufactured homes.
The plat, according to County Engineer Bill Gardner and Sanitation and Code officer Kasi Miles, was drawn and permits secured in accordance with the county’s rules and regulations, and the preliminary plat was approved by the Court.
The gallery heard an extensive presentation regarding an upcoming regional project to map flood plains and determine flood mitigation strategies. The project is being coordinated by the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority and the Texas Water Development Board, and includes cities, counties and other taxing entities from across Central Texas.
The Court voted to continue holding their meetings in the Training and Conference Room at the Scott Annex for the 2013 calendar year. They added a caveat that the meeting place will likely change when the WalMart renovation project is completed.
The County paid bills in the amount of $430,151.62.
The Caldwell County Commissioners Court routinely meets on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the Conference and Training Room of the LW Scott Annex, 1403 Blackjack St., in Lockhart. The meetings are open to the public and interested stakeholders are encouraged to attend.