The tax rate was lowered slightly, and the budget for the next fiscal year was approved with the controversial pay raises for the County Commissioners and County Judge at a regular meeting of the Rockwall County Commissioner’s Court.
As had been done the past several Commissioner’s Court meetings, multiple residents approached the podium during the public comment period to voice their opposition to the proposed pay raises for many elected officials. In the proposed budget, several elected positions such as the commissioners, judge, sheriff, county clerk and more would see raises anywhere from 15 to 25 percent over the current fiscal year.
Rockwall currently ranks in the top five salary-wise for many of these elected positions for Texas counties with a population between 50,000 and 99,999 before the raises, according to the most recent salary survey done by the Texas Association of Counties.
While several residents opposed the raises to the commissioners and judge, they voiced their support for the raises given to the sheriff’s office, including for deputies and dispatchers. The parade of speakers lasted for nearly an hour.
Then the commissioners discussed the budget at length. Commissioner Cliff Sevier stated that his motion to lower the raises down to eight-percent over three years that was not passed at previous meeting was done in response to public requests.
“I received lots of mail and calls from residents saying that something should be done,” Sevier stated. “I said I would try, and that’s what I did.”
A vote was held at the Sept. 10 meeting of the Commissioner’s Court to lower the pay raises, but it was shot down 2-3, with Commissioner Sevier and County Judge David Sweet voting for the change and Commissioners Lee Gilbert, Dennis Bailey and David Magness voting against.
Sevier stated that nothing could be done about the raises now, as a 10-day window for the filing of grievances must be allowed if a county official’s proposed salary is lowered due to a budget amendment, and that 10 day window is now after the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, putting the county at risk of a lawsuit.
Commissioners Gilbert, Bailey, Magness and Judge Sweet all spoke at length discussing the budget. Bailey wanted to stress that the changes are not annual raises that will be done every year, instead describing it as a salary adjustment.
“I know that people most likely don’t care what I call it, because it’s still a raise of more than 20 percent,” Bailey said. “I don’t deny that. I am just explaining the rationale.”
Bailey continued, adding that for several years during the last decade, the salaries of elected officials did not change at all, and the adjustment helps the county stay competitive.
Bailey also pointed out the significant savings that have been realized by county decisions, and that tax rates have been decreased in the last few years.
Commissioner Magness referenced a salary study performed by the commissioners in preparation for the budget that found that the raises would put Rockwall in the upper-mid pack salary-wise when compared with what he called “ring counties” surrounding Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, San Antonio and other metro areas.
Judge Sweet said that his second of Commissioner Sevier’s motion to bring the raises down was in response to community feedback.
After more than an hour of further discussion, the budget was officially passed 4-1, with Sevier voting against.
The tax rate was also approved, and at a lower rate than previously discussed. In prior drafts of the budget, the property tax rate was proposed at $0.3284 per $100 of property value, which is the same as the current year. The Commissioners decided to approve a slight reduction in the rate, down to $0.3250.
The new rate would bring in roughly $372,000 less in revenues compared to slightly higher rate that was originally proposed, and that change would be taken out of the county’s contingency fund. However, even with the lower tax rate, Rockall County is still budgeted to bring in more than $3 million more in revenues over last year due to higher appraised property values across the county.
The tax rate of $0.3250 was approved unanimously.
The budget that was accepted is slated to be viewable online at rockwallcountytexas.com/846/Open-Government-and-Transparency, but the link for the new budget is broken as of Wednesday morning.
The commissioners also voted to continue to meet on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month for the next fiscal year.
Several other items were approved by the commissioners. these include:
— A proclamation at the request of Connie Pettitt, LPC, Executive Director of WIN/Women In Need, Inc., to declare the month of October 2019 as “Domestic Violence Awareness Month” in Rockwall County.
— A proclamation at the request of County Extension Agents, Todd Williams and Aimee Sandifeer to declare October 6-12, 2019 as “National 4-H Week” in Rockwall County.
— Recognition of Cpl. Cole Donaldson and Nurse Amber Lloyd with the “Lifesaving Award.”
— Approved a performance pay plan for civilian and law enforcement officers.
— Approved Rockwall County Employee holidays for fiscal year 2020.
— Approved a one-year agreement effective October 1, 2019, with the Rockwall County Emergency Services Corporation for the County’s share of the administrative costs.
— Approved the one-year renewal of interlocal agreements effective October 1, 2019 with the Cities of Rockwall ($68,250), Royse City ($73,000), Heath ($27,250), McLendon-Chisholm ($77,500) and Fate ($104,000) for fire protection services to non-incorporated areas within the County.
— Approved a renewal agreement with Royse City for dispatch services provided by the Rockwall County Sheriff’s Office for an annual fee of $60,000.
— Approved a reimbursement extension for funding the historical marker for the historic calaboose project in Royse City.
The next regularly-scheduled meeting of the Rockwall County Commissioner’s Court is scheduled for Oct. 8 at 9 a.m. in the Historic Courthouse at 101 East Rusk Street in Rockwall.