By Kathi Bliss
Information released by Caldwell County this week suggests that as the County Judge and Commissioners begin planning for the upcoming budget, they may be moving toward a pay increase for employees.
A notice published by legal requirement in today’s Post-Register shows an increased salary cap for Caldwell County elected officials. That increase, though not yet voted upon or approved by the Court, offers a glimpse into the future for Caldwell County employees, many of whom waged a bitter battle last summer for increased pay rates.
According to County Administrator Ron Heggemeier, some of the proposed increase serves to offer elected officials the same increase given to employees last year, as well as to provide them with the $500 per year salary “bump” approved by the Court at mid-year. The difference, some $2,000 per employee, may be suggested during budget talks for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
Under State statute, the County must publish a “maximum” salary planned for each elected official prior to approval of the budget. Last year, that notice was published before the Commissioners completed their budget negotiations; last year’s salary increase was projected at $1,000 per employee, but wound up being $1,600. Additionally, employees received a $500 mid-year pay increase, for which the elected officials were not eligible, because elected officials cannot receive mid-year pay increases.
Therefore, each elected official, Heggemeier said, is being eyed for at least an $1,100 pay increase, so they will be included in last year’s salary changes.
The additional $2,000, however, will be a point of discussion during upcoming budget talks.
The legal notice can be seen on Page 6A of today’s Post-Register.
In other County business, the Commissioners voted to offer some relief to the residents of the Spring River Estates subdivision in the Martindale area.
For months, residents of the area have been concerned about traffic increases in the area, which have been driven by Don’s Fish Camp and Texas State Toobs, both river-based businesses operating just outside Spring River Estates. Property owners near the businesses have implored the Commissioners not only to ask the Sheriff’s Department to increase patrols and ticketing in the area, but also to install speed bumps or other traffic control devices to encourage drivers to monitor their speed through the residential neighborhood abutting the river.
Once again this week, several members of the community approached the Commissioners to complain about the dangerous conditions, and to beg for help. What they did not mention, and what was pointed out later by an employee of the Sheriff’s Department, is that at least one asphalt speed bump has already been installed on Meadow Lane, the main area of concern.
No one present at Monday’s meeting could or would disclose who had installed the speed bump, but one neighbor confirmed that it had been installed several weeks ago.
After extensive discussion about who should pay for traffic control devices, and a litany of questions about which municipality holds jurisdiction over the area, the Commissioners finally voted to install what Commissioner Fred Buchholtz called “temporary, pre-fabricated speed cushions” in the area.
County Engineer Bill Gardner was ordered to purchase and oversee the installation of the speed cushions, but refused to advise the Commissioners as to where they should be installed.
“I can’t do that without a traffic study of the area being done,” Gardner said. “It would be a violation of my professional ethics to attach my name as engineer of record for a private entity [with regard to the installation of the traffic control devices]… that’s not something that I’m comfortable with.”
For months, Gardner has been urging the Commissioners to insist that the owner of the business that has created the concerns in the neighborhood to pay for a traffic impact assessment (called a “traffic study” by Commissioners), before moving forward with installation of the speed cushions or other control devices. Additionally, he said, installation of the devices amounts to a fundamental change of the roadway, which could open the County up to liability if accidents or damage occur.
Assistant District Attorney and county civil attorney Mack Harrison also urged the Commissioners to wait; he said much time has been spent attempting to determine whether San Marcos, Martindale or Caldwell County has jurisdiction over the subject business. If Caldwell County was granted jurisdiction, he said, it would be necessary to approach the business owner through legal means, because County requirements regarding the traffic study, building permits and other such concerns were not addressed when the property was bought and developed.
Despite the advice of their experts, the Court finally bowed to pressure from the neighborhood, agreeing to “temporarily” install the road cushions. Commissioner Neto Madrigal will work with residents of the area to determine where they believe the speed cushions should be installed, and will instruct Gardner as to those locations.
In brief news:
The Commissioners approved the purchase of four portable weight scales to be used by the Caldwell County Constables’ Offices. The scales, according to Precinct 3 Constable Margarito “Junior” Zapata, Jr., will help the Constables and their deputies to enforce load requirements for passing 18-wheelers. The projected total cost for the scales is estimated at $19,580.
The Court considered having the stump of the recently-cut pecan tree at the northeast corner of the Courthouse Square cut into a cross as a monument for Caldwell County’s veterans. Harrison raised concern about the project, suggesting that opponents may object to the cross-shaped monument as “state sanctioned religion,” and other concerns were brought forth by the Commissioners. The panel voted 4-1 to table the discussion until a later meeting, with County Judge Tom Bonn voting against tabling the initiative.
They entered an order establishing the polling places for the runoff in the 2012 Primary Elections. Early voting will be held beginning on July 23 at the Scott Annex in Lockhart, and at the Episcopal Church in Luling.
The Commissioners agreed to approve a resolution expressing support of enactment of river safety regulations that will ban certain motorboats on the San Marcos River. The County cannot enact such rules on a river that runs through more than one county, but state-sanctioned organizations such as the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) can.
The county paid bills in the amount of $178,349.10.
The Caldwell County Commissioners Court meets on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the conference and training room at the L.W. Scott Annex, 1403 Blackjack St., in Lockhart. The meetings are open to the public and interested stakeholders are encouraged to attend.