By Kathi Bliss
A theory that has been presented to Caldwell County Commissioners in anecdotal form for years was finally brought forward this week in a matter of dollars and sense.
Earlier this year, the Commissioners Court asked Human Resources Director Deborah Kortan to prepare a “salary survey,” showing the Commissioners exactly where Caldwell County employees and elected officials stand in relation to other counties in the area.
Though it was expected that the survey would show a significant disparity, the level to which Caldwell County has fallen behind is staggering.
On average, Caldwell County employees’ salaries are $9,453 below the average of employees in the same or similar jobs, both within a six-county statistical area surrounding Caldwell County, but also in comparison to 36 counties in the state with a similar population size.
On its surface, that $9,453 might not seem insurmountable, it only reflects a midpoint of salaries which, in some cases lag more than $40,000 behind. In only six cases, in fact, out of more than 220 employees, did employees make more than the midpoint average of others in their positions. Far more often, the shortfall is between $10,000 and $15,000 per year.
The survey revealed a similar trend among elected officials, with Caldwell County’s officials earning on average $27,000 per year less than their contemporaries.
The initial draft of the 2012-2013 budget prepared by County Judge Tom Bonn, County Administrator Ron Heggemeier and County Auditor Larry Roberson calls for a $2,000 across-the-board pay increase for employees this year. However, the Court must now decide if they want to let that increase stand, or make a plan to implement a scale to bring salaries up to par.
That program, which has only been spoken about in vague terms, suggests implementing a tiered pay increase, with a certain percentage of the shortfall being granted in the form of a salary increase each year. What those percentages might be or how long total implementation might take is a matter for later discussion, but Bonn offered assurances that employees who did not suffer the same shortfalls would still be granted a cost-of-living increases.
One concern about a tiered program is the notion that the Court cannot make commitments on behalf of future Courts. Any multi-year program to equalize pay would do just that. However, curing the shortfall at once is impossible, because the cost is so high. The tax rate that would be required to raise funds to cover the salaries would most certainly trigger a massive tax increase, most likely higher than allowable by law.
Elsewhere in budget news, Bonn’s proposed budget, which will continue through the workshopping process throughout July, suggests an countywide revenue increase of just under 2.3 percent, while still offering a decrease in tax rate, to $0.6908 per $100 of valuation.
In other business, a proposed change in the County’s Fuel Card Policy caused sparks between Roberson and County Sheriff Daniel Law, who said that some of his employees were concerned about a proposed change.
Addressing what Roberson said was an uncommon but ongoing problem wherein County employees enter the incorrect odometer reading when putting fuel in county vehicles, Roberson and the County’s legal counsel drafted a policy which would give the employee the opportunity to correct the error, but would allow the County to deduct from that employee’s paycheck if the error was not corrected.
Though Law said he signed the policy without hesitation, he said some of his employees bucked against the idea, concerned that their paychecks might be docked because of errors they could not control.
In its third draft, Roberson presented a policy to the Court on Monday that would require approval from an employee’s elected supervisor prior to any payroll deductions. The Commissioners struck down the change, however, suggesting that “if it gets to that point, then a paycheck deduction is going to be the least of their problems.”
Commissioner Joe Roland voted against his colleagues on the measure, suggesting he was in favor of the change.
In brief news:
The Court heard an update from Time Warner Cable and technical advisor Mark Hinnenkamp regarding a change in the contract with Time Warner to accommodate communications at the soon-to-be-renovated offices which will be located in the old WalMart building.
They approved a change in the security pledge from their depository institution, changing the amount required to be secured from $3.5 million to $5 million.
They considered an appointment to the CAPCOG Aging Advisory Council, but did not appoint a nominee, instead asking for interested members of the public to consider the appointment.
The county paid bills in the amount of $643,959.
The Caldwell County Commissioners meet on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the Training and Conference Room at the LW Scott Annex, 1403 Blackjack St. in Lockhart. The meetings are open to the public, and interested members of the community are encouraged to attend.
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