Guest Column – From the Desk of Judge Tom D. Bonn
Why County Administrator?
The duties of County Judge are numerous and not just limited to the normal 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday work week. As the County Chief Official, I assume active roles on many boards, (20) just by virtue of my elected position. I make important decisions on grants, services for county residents, such as transportat
ion, road and highways plans.
During a normal day, several hours are consumed with personnel and employee issues, public drop-ins, building and machinery maintenance decisions as a result of my “open-door” policy.
As a result normal planning, correspondence, management and important county business yields precedence to “Management by Crisis.” Legal requirements, government regulations and inter-local agreements with other government agencies, often can’t be completed hurriedly.
I was elected to run the County in an efficient, productive manner with a balanced budget. I assume these duties, but also seek to have the most professional and competent staff.
When the County Auditor and his assistant both made a sudden departure at the beginning of the budget preparation, I conducted interviews of elected official and department managers; this Judge had no staff capable of assisting. Without a replacement auditor, I made the decision to request our Civil Attorney from the District Attorney’s staff for assistance. Mr. Heggemeier, fortunately, had previous budget preparation experience as a former a Mayor in Kansas.
This was my first County budget, and despite all odds together we completed a balanced budget on time, and were able to reduce the tax rate from last year. The proposed budget was posted for the first time in County history on our web site for public viewing and with the County Clerk as required by law.
Ultimately, I was able to reward County employees with $1,600, or a 6.4 percent* increase (last year’s increase was $900), plus pay the $1,400 increase on the employee health insurance premiums, totaling $3,000 total benefit for each county employee.
During this year’s budget process, I reviewed the previous year’s budget prepared by the previous Auditor and Judge Duesterheft. That budget considered, but did not implement, a position for a County Administrator. While I never considered this position initially, I began to discuss its merits with a distinguished group of elected officials from both political parties and commissioners.
I meet monthly with this “Think Tank” group aforementioned, and have discussed my frustration with how the “Management by Crisis” is counterproductive and asked them to put together a list of solutions.
What resulted from these monthly discussions was incorporated into my first budget. I asked this group of tenured elected officials to prioritize the positions they had suggested.
As you may have concluded, the County Administrator was first and second was the Human Resources position. As I began to see the merits of both positions, I studied my budget and maneuvered funds and rescheduled major equipment purchases allowing the funding of both positions.
Yes, with a balanced budget, a reduced tax rate, $3,000 total employee benefit with 6.4 percent* salary increase – and did I forget to mention five months’ reserve which was not used!
As your Judge, I am charged to prepare the annual budget. My vision is to cut the tax rate each subsequent budget, while executing an equitable salary plan for employees, and improving services for county tax payers with efficient government.
With a passed budget by Commissioners’ Court, I followed published county hiring procedures, advertising internally for the Administrator. It was not a difficult decision hiring Mr. Heggemeier, considering his professional knowledge experience, a Texas Board Certified Lawyer and personal knowledge of his work ethic, having worked four months preparing this budget with him.
He has saved Caldwell County from class action lawsuits with the US Departmentof Labor Standards when he corrected payroll errors, allowing overtime payments before their inspections. These savings, amounting to typically three to four times the claim in punitive damages, have more than paid his salary for many budget cycles.
Heggemeier was instrumental in recovery of $45,000 in claims against official’s bonds for the embezzlement at the Luling Tax Office. With his assistance I was able to eliminate the contract ($22,000), paid to our insurance broker and procuring our own bids for health benefits package with Texas Association of Counties and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas Insurance.
To my critics, I ask for your patience and to allow this Judge time to execute his plan for Caldwell County with these additional staff departments while continuing with a balanced budget, reduced tax rate, employee $3,000 improved benefits, positive five months reserve budget funds and committed to improve services for our County tax payers.
* based on a $ 25,000 annual wage