Commissioners approve county judge pay raise
By Wesley Gardner
Caldwell County Commissioners on Tuesday voted to approve a salary increase for the county judge position that will bring it even with the salary of the county sheriff.
Commissioners voted 4-0 in favor of the measure, with County Judge Hoppy Haden abstaining from the vote. The move will raise the county judge’s salary from $58,165 to $81,850.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Ed Theriot introduced the item.
“When I first came on the commissioners court for the 2017 budget cycle, we had many discussions related to employee salaries,” said Theriot. “One of the things that came out of those discussions was that we wanted to get the salaries of our top leaders up to a point that attracted quality candidates and provided a means for those folks to make a living while they’re executing the full-time duties of the county.”
Theriot noted that at the time, commissioners planned to raise both the salary for the sheriff and the salary for the county judge to $81,850, but extenuating circumstances required them to leave the county judge’s salary where it was at that point.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Barbara Shelton said that while she believed the raise was warranted, uncertainties surrounding the county’s upcoming budget were a point of concern.
County Auditor Barbara Gonzales said the decrease in sales tax revenue brought on due to business closures have made it difficult to know exactly where the county stands.
“The unknowns are what kind of revenues do we have coming in,” said Gonzales. “We’re going to sit down and crunch numbers, but it’s going of be very difficult to do that. When you shut down your business, we’re not going to have a lot sales tax coming in.”
Haden agreed it would be difficult to forecast where the county really stands at this point.
“We don’t know what the impacts of COVID-19 are, because what happened in March hasn’t trickled through the system yet, so we’re left to wonder about those numbers,” said Haden. “Obviously, Ad valorem is the biggest chunk.
“Out of a 30 million budget, it’s $20 million of it. That’s a big chunk.”
Ad valorem taxes are based on ownership of a real asset, such as property, and can be looked at in contrast to transactional taxes, such as sales taxes.”
Haden added that property tax collections are currently on par with where they typically are at this point of the year.
Haden noted that while there might be a gap in the budget caused by COVID-19 related issues, he didn’t foresee it causing problems with day-to-day operations.
“Being able to operate, being able to take care of our employees, being able to make sure we have plenty of insurance and benefits, being able to make sure we’re able to do proper road maintenance … all of those things I’m not too concerned about,” said Haden, noting any budgetary restraints would be reflected in decreased capital expenditures, such as heavy equipment and machinery.
Haden said the decreased capital expenditures shouldn’t cause many issues because the county had already replaced most of its equipment over the last two years, in addition to making the switch from buying to leasing vehicles – a measure he said was far more cost-efficient.
Precinct 1 Commissioner B.J. Westmoreland brought the commission’s attention back to the proposed salary increase after the lengthy budgetary discussion.
“You’re here a lot and have managed this county as an administrator probably to the greatest extent physically possible,” he told Haden, noting he agreed with the proposed increase.
Before recusing himself from the vote, Haden added a caveat.
“I would ask, though, if Barbara [Gonzales] and I get into this and it looks like we simply can’t afford it, I would ask for your reconsideration,” Haden said.
Commissioners ultimately approved the measure 4-0.
In other business, commissioners voted to keep the county wide burn ban inactive.
Emergency Management Coordinator Hector Rangel noted the heavy amount of rain forecasted over the next week should keep burn indexes low.
Commissioners also voted to allow the sale of fireworks to the public in celebration of Memorial Day, which will be observed on May 25.