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Tax break, pay raises color county budget

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By LPR Staff

Editor/POST-REGISTER

On Friday, July 29, Caldwell County Judge Tom Bonn released for review a proposed budget for Caldwell County for the upcoming fiscal year.

Unlike other organizations which engage an extensive “workshopping” process as the group as a whole prepares the budget, the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court has histori

cally relied upon the County Judge to work with auditors to prepare a proposed budget. With the recent resignations of the Caldwell County Auditor, Sonny Rougeou, and the assistant auditor Elizabeth Mundine, Bonn worked extensively with Caldwell County’s civil attorney, Ron Heggemeier, to prepare the budget.

Of particular note, the budget calls for a $1,000 across-the-board pay increase for county employees, and an identical increase for elected officials. As announced in last week’s Post-Register, the budget includes a larger increase for Bonn himself, bumping his salary from $39,826 to $45,000. However, the budget does not factor in payment for Bonn’s health insurance, in the amount of $6,900, whereas that expense is reflected for the other elected officials.

Bonn explained the pay bump as a necessity in hiring a new County Auditor, stating that County Auditors cannot be paid more than the highest-paid elected official in the county.

Still, the decision sparked a flurry of online debate, with many county employees, particularly those within the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office, expressing shock and disappointment at the Commissioners for discussing giving themselves a pay raise in the midst of troubled economic times.

In a letter attached to the proposed budget, Bonn also said he had included provisions for merit-pay increases in several County departments, hoping to encourage and reward high-performing county employees.

“… our employees are our most valuable asset,” he wrote. “By projecting to give all employees a $1,000 raise, along with covering 100 percent of the increased health care costs of our employees, I hope [they] understand we are trying to help them as much as we can.”

The county also expects to cover the total expense for a nearly-25-percent  increase in the cost of employee health insurance.

Surprisingly, these increases are predicated on a slight decrease in overall tax rate, from $0.6910 per $100 of valuation, to $0.6909. Bonn’s letter, however, did not distinguish as to whether these decreases were predicated upon increased property values, nor what portions of the overall rate are attributable to the Maintenance and Operations (M&O) rate or the debt tax rate.

He also expects an increase in collections, fees and fines collected and an increase in sales tax revenue. All told, Bonn said the budget proposal is based upon a projected  8.3-percent increase in revenues.

Bonn’s budget recap reflects changes in county operations, including a shift in responsibilities from the Caldwell County Treasurer’s Office and the Caldwell County Auditor’s Office to a newly-funded Human Resources Office.

A line-by-line review of the budget revealed that several departments have been “downsized,” but it is unclear whether those positions were moved to other areas of the budget, or eliminated entirely.

One position, that of 9-1-1 Coordinator Darla Law, was removed from the budget entirely. That decision, it was said at a recent meeting of the Commissioners’ Court, has been eliminated because the funding for the position was ended by the Capitol Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG).

Copies of the proposed budget are available upon request from the Caldwell County Judge’s Office, on the second floor of the Caldwell County Courthouse. The Commissioners’ Court is expected to hold a public hearing to discuss the budget and tax rate on 9 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 26, 2011.

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