The first presentation to the Navarro County Commissioners Court Monday set the tone for this year’s budget hearings — raises for county employees.

Speaking on behalf of county department heads, Russell Hudson, county tax assessor/collector, called for employee raises of $2,400 “across the board” to be the first thing considered by the commissioners court.

“Before we go forward setting any part of the budget ... consider raising the employees first and foremost,” Hudson said. “I think you all agree that employees are the number one asset of this county ... we need to look at employees first this year.”

Hudson said a set amount increase was favored over a percentage increase, adding people making higher salaries would benefit more than those making a lower wage that really needed the increase should a percentage-based formula be used.

“We thought that would be more fair,” Hudson added.

Precinct 3 commissioner William Baldwin said he favored the idea of a set amount, saying he had come up with a figure of $2,275 per employee he wants included in this year’s budget.

Commissioners had to forego employee raises in the current year’s budget due to the lack of funds. How much money the court will have to work with won’t be determined until a tax rate is chosen, something yet to be done in the budget process.

“I’m losing people ‘right and left’ because of money issues,” said Les Cotten, county sheriff. “I’ve had two people go to Kaufman County and make, maybe, $10,000 a year more.”

Cotten cited the expense of training new deputies, only to have them leave the county for a higher-paying position elsewhere.

“They can go to Freestone County and make more money than they can here in Navarro County,” Cotten said.

“I’ve got 20 patrol officers. That hasn’t changed in probably six or seven years ... I can make do for now but if we don’t get the money up to where they can afford to stay, I’m going to lose more of them.”

Employee raises aren’t the only budget issues facing the Cotten’s department in the coming year. Repairs to the county jail, mandated by the state, will add over $382,000 to this year’s total, not counting $100,000 carried over from the current budget. Seven new vehicles and associated equipment to ready them for patrol use, plus new radios and bullet-proof vests for jailers and deputies are also on the department’s “wish list” of expenditures for the coming year.

All department heads appearing before the commissioners Monday echoed the call for salary increases. While many had suggested percentage-based “cost of living adjustments” in their written budget presentations, all agreed to a plan to increase employees “across the board.”

“Not a one of us in this room needs the (increase) more than our employees,” said Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Kirby Hill.

District Attorney Lowell Thompson added he lost an employee over salary this year. His department is looking at increased costs in the coming budget year due to three upcoming capital murder trails, adding well over $100,000 to his department’s projected expenses.

“It’s the nature of the business we are in,” Thompson said. “All of our increases stem from these three cases.”

Increased fuel costs also are expected to impact the county budget this year, especially in the sheriff’s department and the road and bridge operations of the four county commissioners.

“If it wasn’t for gasoline costs, our budget might have gone down this year,” said Capt. Bret Latta of the Sheriff’s department. “If I had told you last year that gas would cost $4 a gallon, you would have called me crazy.”

Commissioners have yet to decide on a tax rate for the coming year. The current rate is 57.54 cents per $100 valuation. The “rollback” rate, the highest rate that taxes can be raised to without risking a rollback election is 58.28 cents per $100. Adopting that rate would generate $1,094,564 in additional revenue for the county in the coming budget year, according to figures supplied by Paula Welch, county auditor.

Commissioners will return for a second round of budget hearings at 1:30 p.m. today in the basement conference room.

—————

Bob Belcher may be reached via e-mail at belcher@corsicanadailysun.com

This Week's Circulars