By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun
Despite being faced with a $1 million deficit in the proposed budget for the coming year, the Navarro County Commissioners Court agreed Friday it will hold the line on taxes.
The county intends to keep the ad valorem tax rate at .6270 per $100 valuation.
Commissioners agreed on the rate at a budget workshop Friday morning. A vote on the rate will take place during Monday’s regular meeting of commissioners.
Going in to Friday’s meeting, the preliminary budget showed a deficit of $1,054,147. The county has passed deficit budgets the last two years, yet ended up “in the black” in the 2011-12 budget, and should end up near even this year, according to projections from the county auditor. But the $1 million deficit is larger than the previous two years, which both were about $800,000 in deficit. Conservative spending and a better than anticipated tax collection rates were credited for a year-end positive balance.
Changes made Friday will increase that deficit by another $6,000, as commissioners agreed to a second pay raise for the county’s four constables. That move came after a 6 to 3 vote of the county salary grievance committee Wednesday to recommend commissioners reconsider the salary of Pct. 2 Constable David Foreman, who filed the grievance.
Commissioners had previously agreed to increase the constable salaries from $17,340 to $18,500. Friday, commissioners agreed with a recommendation made by Pct. 4 Commissioner James Olsen to increase the constable salary to $20,000 annually.
Olsen said the county appreciates the work of the constables, and the time spent by the grievance committee reviewing the complaint filed by Foreman.
“There was obviously some reason for them to want us to review it,” Olsen said, suggesting the $20,000 figure.
“I’ve talked to the counties around us. ... They use their constables to patrol, some have radar and drug dogs. ... With that in mind, we’ve asked our constables to serve papers and bailiff,” Olsen said in defense of his suggestion.
Olsen added that constables also receive health insurance and retirement benefits, the same as other county employees.
Foreman pointed out that the benefit package county officials and employees receive is “on top of the salary,” and said he believed the grievance committee recommendation was to reach a “happy medium” on a salary level, one he suggested would be $25,000 annually.
“We go out putting our lives on the line serving these papers,” Foreman said. “We’re not being paid a fair, comparable salary compared to the other elected officials in the county.”
Pct. 2 Commissioner Dick Martin said he agreed with other commissioners that the constables were doing a great job for the county, but pointed to the current deficit in the budget, and said adding any more to the deficit could mean a raise in taxes.
“This is a very unusual budget year in that we've seen a decline in revenues,” Martin said. “This (increase) represents more like an 8 percent raise in your case.”
Pct. 1 Commissioner Jason Grant agreed that the $20,000 figure was a proper move.
“We recognize they could use a little bump in pay and we gave them one,” Grant said. “As it is right now, I agree with James (Olsen) — in light of other obstacles we're facing this year, I think that's a good faith effort.”
Pct. 1 Constable Mike Davis offered an analysis of other heads of precinct offices — commissioners and justices of the peace — by breaking down their salaries to an hourly rate he said averaged $24.19, based on a 40-hour week.
“That’s based on the bar you set as a precinct officer,” Davis said.
He said based on an hourly comparison of time he spends serving as constable, he should be making $37,000 a year at the $24.19 hourly rate.
“I’ve only asked for $30,000,” he said. “I think we should be paid for what we actually work.” Davis added he was appreciative of the consideration of the court in the raises received, and that he believed the salaries were set in “good faith.”
Foreman thanked commissioners for their consideration, and for the raises that they have been able to give. He added that he appreciated the court granting the additional money to the other constable positions as well.
After not giving raises over several years in the past, Martin said the county needed to stay “in step” on considering employee salaries in future years.
Commissioners also heard Friday from former sheriff’s office employee Wade Braley, who called for the county to re-consider its 4 percent pay raise, and instead give a $2,000 across-the-board pay increase to all employees. He said it would be good for employee morale, and provide a larger increase to those on the lower end of the county’s pay scale. He said that jailers in the county were underpaid for the work they do, and he feared the consequences of having unqualified personnel on duty in the jail due to the county’s salary structure.
Chief Deputy Morris Steward said the county’s detention officers take a great deal of pride in their work and accomplishments, and tired to take care of things in the jail without asking for help. He cited examples of using commissary profits to fix a water heater and dish washer.
Commissioners will meet again at 10 a.m. Monday.
Bob Belcher may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: email@example.com