By Kathi Bliss
“We have the duty not to cut services for a pipe dream!”
What continues to resemble a personal war between County Judge Tom Bonn and Sheriff Daniel Law continued, as Law spoke to proposed changes in the Caldwell County budget with grave concern.
In a surprising turn of events, Bonn had offered a revised budget, dated Sept. 3 and emailed to the media at 3:29 on Tuesday afternoon, which included two controversial changes, including replacing the County Administrator with a “Project Coordinator” position to oversee renovation at the new Judicial Center, and the elimination of an Animal Control Officer (ACO) position.
Using the funds freed up by those changes, Bonn said, he was able to add two bailiff positions to increase security in the existing Caldwell County Judicial Center.
“I didn’t know that position was going to come out of the budget,” Law said. “Don’t you think that the elected department head should know?”
Bonn accused Law of making a political stump speech as he urged the Commissioners not only to reconsider eliminating the ACO position, but to reconsider the WalMart project altogether.
“I think it’s a good thing and it’s going to make things easier for me,” he said. “But if we’re cutting services trying to find the money for the project… if we don’t have the money for it, maybe we should hold off on it at this point.”
Bonn said he took offense to the assertion that the project was a “pipe dream,” and accused Law’s department of causing the cost overruns. The pair exchanged barbs, with Law claiming the overruns were the function of having to pay overtime because “you won’t give me what I need.”
The confrontation between the two was clipped short as the Commissioners continued to try to make a compromise on a balanced budget that serves the needs of the community, and the plans of the governing body.
Commissioner Alfredo Munoz, who said he has been present for several meetings with the project manager and architect on the “WalMart” project, said he understood the need for a project coordinator, but was uncertain of the means with which the position was introduced.
“I’ve been trying to figure out how to do this,” Munoz said. “But I didn’t know about this until yesterday afternoon.”
Commissioners Joe Roland and Neto Madrigal said that they were also unaware that the plan to increase security at the justice center included the removal of the ACO position or the changing of the County Administrator department to a “project coordinator.”
Though they discussed the possibilities of adding additional bailiff positions on a tiered basis, Bonn resisted the notion, reminding the Commissioners that the new judicial center would not be occupied until after the start of the next fiscal year, and security needs could be assessed during the next budget process.
When it came to the contingency fund, however, Bonn expressed vehement opposition to taking $85,000 out of contingency and non-departmental expenses to apply into the Unit Road System, noting the unknowns involved with the WalMart project.
Bonn said there would be expenses that have not been assessed in the bond project, including finishing and furnishings, and said he believed it to be more prudent to leave the funds in contingency to meet those expenses.
Munoz pointed out the funds could be placed in contingency for the next fiscal year. However, because the project is expected to be completed in October or November, Bonn remained steadfast in his support of keeping contingency available for completion of that project.
Upon a vote, the Court voted 4-1 in favor of making the $85,000 transfer from contingency to the Unit Road System.
After discussing and updating several aspects of the budget, including making changes to the proposal to keep the ACOs intact while adding two addtional bailiffs and adding training funds to the office of Constable, Precinct 3, the Court was able to unanimously pass a balanced budget, which will be available in its completed form for public viewing later this week.
In a related item, the Commissioners held the first of two public hearings regarding the proposed tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year budget.
Bonn maintains this is the third consecutive year that the Commissioners have decreased the tax rate. While that assertion is factually accurate, the second prong of that truth is that increased appraisals and increased property inventory has allowed the County to collect increased tax revenue with a decreased tax rate.
They opened a number of bids for renovation of the Luling Annex. After extended discussion of the bids and the specifications on the project, they agreed to review the bids and specifications, and to bring the bids back for award during their next regular meeting, on Sept. 9, 2013.
The Court voted to appoint Bonn to both the Bluebonnet Trails MHMR Community Board of Trustees and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board.
The Commissioners convened in an executive session to discuss matters related to an agreement with Walton Texas, LP, for regulation of subdivision and approval for “Cotton Center.” Information regarding that project and the related executive session was not available at press time.
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 Center of the LW Scott Annex, 1403 Blackjack St. in Lockhart. The meetings are open to the public and webstreamed on www.co.caldwell.tx.us.