County budget, tax rate passes on split vote
by Joe Baker
Oct 04, 2012 | 1498 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
KARNES CITY – Karnes County’s Commissioners Court approved their budget for the upcoming fiscal year and tax rates, but both happened on split votes during the court’s Sept. 24 meeting.

Before that happened, however, there was a public hearing on the budget and tax rates and opportunity for public comments.

Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Caroline Korzekwa addressed the court on behalf of several elected officials and department heads regarding a recent vote to allow higher pay raises for employees of the road and bridge department than what was approved for other county departments with similar positions.

“Three weeks ago, what we thought was a final decision on y’all’s behalf, on salaries was made,” Korzekwa said. “This included a one dollar per hour increase for all clerks, secretaries and a five percent (raise) for all others. Then, Road and Bridge comes in again, at the last minute, with an incredible request, and, it was approved, by a vote of four to one. The amount of consideration given to this proposal was maybe six minutes.”

“Commissioners Court, you stirred a hornet’s nest with that,” Korzekwa said.

Korzekwa said that the request by the road and bridge department included a nearly three dollar per hour pay raise for an administrative assistant, which is a clerical position. The raise amounts to a 30 percent pay raise, or about $4,000 per year more than the amount paid to similar county positions, Korzekwa said.

“We are asking that what you do for one member of clerical support, you do for all,” Korzekwa said.

Korzekwa asked the court to rescind its decision allowing the pay raises requested by the road and bridge department. She said she agreed that a step program in regard to pay raises was a good idea, but should begin at the same time for all county employees in all county departments.

“Think about this,” Korzekwa said. “The only two departments – you as a group – considered for sizable raises, had male department heads.”

“Commissioners Court, we are looking at discrimination,” Korzekwa said. “I’m sorry to say it, but it is looking that way.”

Bernice Stimson spoke to the court about a security officer position that has been included in the budget. The proposed position would provide security for the juvenile probation offices and the offices of county judge and county attorney, also located in the juvenile probation building.

“I’m asking today for you to review that, and either think about a 16 hour or 24 hour surveillance, or if we even need it because I think the man would just stay here for eight hours if I am understanding right. I’m asking what happens to the other 16 hours.”

Assistant County Attorney Betty Yarter also addressed the court, in regard to the budget. Yarter said that County Attorney Robert Busselman asked her to let the court know that he plans to file a grievance regarding a budget salary item under laws related to the Texas Open Government Code.

Sue Butler Carter addressed the court, encouraging the court to consider adopting a higher tax rate than what has been proposed.

“I think we have given taxpayers a break every year since 2007,” Carter said. “You know the decreases – 17 percent in 2008, nine percent in 2009, 20 percent in 2010 and 14 percent last year. We have given the taxpayers a nice decrease every single year since 2008, so I just believe that to go down and have only 14 counties with a lower tax rate than us, just doesn’t make sense.”

Carter encouraged the county to keep the tax rate unchanged and use the extra revenue to create a rainy day fund, or use it for projects that will benefit all of the residents of Karnes County.

County Commissioner Carl Hummel made a comment in response to Carter’s comments.

“We need to adopt a tax rate that is in line with the damage being done to our roads,” Hummell said. “Whatever y’all think that is... The way these roads are getting torn up? James, you brought it up several times, three or four million dollars is like spit in the ocean. Thirty or forty million and you could probably get every road in the county in tip top shape.”

Before the court considered adopting the county’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, County Auditor Lajuana Kasprzyk reviewed a few requested late changes to the preliminary budget set several weeks earlier.

These changes included:

Cell phone allowance for elected officials and court appointed officials – cost: $29,120

Increasing pay for part time clerks to an additional $1 per hour – cost $10,631

Hydraulic striker – cost $15,000

Full time security officer for juvenile probation building – cost $48,568

Pay raises for county auditor, staff and court reporters – cost not set yet

Step pay raises for road and bridge department – $27,254

Kaspryk also reviewed changes in the general fund unencumbered fund balance, under the proposed budget and tax rate, noting that this balance has grown from $3.3 million in 2008 to an estimated $15.28 million for 2013.

Likewise, the road and bridge special unencumbered fund balance has grown from about $35,000 in 2008 to an estimated $1.9 million for 2013.

Kasprzyk asked the court if they wanted to stay with the proposed budget with minor corrections, or if they wanted to approve the budget with the step pay raises requested by the road and bridge department.

“The only fair thing to do,” Commissioner Carl Hummel said in regard to the step pay raises, “is to give it to everybody. It is the only thing that makes sense... I think to give it to everybody is just the right thing to do. It probably should have been done a long time ago.”

The court discussed raising the pay for all clerical positions to a rate $3 per hour higher than the current rate.

County Judge Barbara Shaw said the idea presents problems because it there wouldn’t be enough time to make payroll changes and that it would mean that clerks would be earning more than the justices of the peace.

“I think we just need to go back to where we were,” Shaw said, referring to the Aug. 31 proposed budget.

Commissioner Pete Jauer said that the proposal from road and bridge arrived too late, and he agreed to going back to the budget the court approved Aug. 31.

In regard to the proposed tax rates, Jauer said he favored staying with the proposed rates totaling roughly 29 cents per $100 property valuation, and consider making rate changes in the next budget cycle.

“One other thing I want to mention about the two departments – road and bridge and sheriff’s department,” Jauer said, referring to claims of discrimination because both departments have male department heads. “That is absolutely not it. Those are the two safety departments of the county that need the most attention with what we have going on here right now. That was our reason for it. It was not because y’all are women and they are men – I want y’all to understand that.”

Commissioner Rosales, who voted against the road and bridge step pay increases in a previous meeting, said he agreed with going back to the proposed budget without the step pay increases.

Regarding the proposed tax rates, Rosales said that he doesn’t agree with the proposed combined 29 cent tax rate.

“That’s like throwing out $4 million,” Rosales said, indicating he favored not adopting a rate and having the rate default to the same rate as set last year (42.69 cents). “I’m not going to be the one that’s going to throw away $4 million bucks.”

Commissioner Tracey Schendel indicated he agreed the county should go back to the Aug. 31 proposed budget without the step pay raises requested by the road and bridge department.

Commissioner Jauer made a motion to adopt the Aug. 31 budget with the minor changes noted by the county auditor.

County Judge Shaw seconded the motion which passed on a 3-2 vote with Jauer, Shaw and Schendel voting in favor while Hummel and Rosales voted against.

Rosales said he voted against the budget because the $25,000 requested by the county attorney for expenses related to hiring an assistant county attorney had not been included in the budget, and that he was also opposed to spending $48,568 per year for a security officer at the juvenile probation building.

Hummel said he was not for giving someone a raise that is well-deserved, and then taking it away.

“I think we ought to give it to everybody,” Hummel emphasized.

The court then considered the tax rates for the next fiscal year.

Commissioner Jauer said that he wanted to stay with the proposed rates of 24.16 cents per $100 valuation for the general fund. He made a motion to adopt the proposed rate. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Schendel.

The motion carried on a 3-2 vote with Jauer, Shaw and Schendel voting in favor and Hummel and Rosales voting against.

Commissioner Schendel made a motion to adopt the road and bridge special tax rate of 5.69 cents per $100 valuation. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Jauer.

The motion carried on a 3-2 vote with Jauer, Shaw and Schendel voting in favor and Hummel and Rosales voting against.
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