Anyone who has the time and effort to go through a budget of any organization will find good things, and then other things that they really don’t understand or agree with. In going through the second draft of the Rockwall County budget, I found exactly those two things.
On the positive side, the recommended tax rate has been reduced 1.5 cents per $100 of appraised value. This is a 7.5 cent reduction over the last six years and that is very noteworthy. They have reduced their budget by about $1.5 million over last year and that too is a very good thing. They have proposed an additional five people over last year’s budget, and that is both good and bad. In the case of being good, it obviously is not rampant inflation of their head count. On the bad side, several of the proposed additions add nothing to the efficiency of the organization nor provide any additional services to their citizens. More on this later.
On the negative side, one glaring issue is the increase in costs for the jail. Even though the citizens voted last year to build a new $52 million jail to cut down the costs and provide a facility better equipped to handle some of the mental problems that prisoners have, this year’s jail cost went up over $600,000.
Since the county 911 center is part of the sheriff’s organization, it was disappointing to see that no visible evidence was present on any plans to consolidate the county and Rockwall city 911 centers. Since they both serve the same function, have about the same number of people , the systems are automated, and the two centers are located less than three miles apart, there is no logical reason why these two cannot be combined thus saving money for both the county and the city.
Another area of great concern is the county’s insistence on paying longevity pay to their employees and elected officials. As mentioned several times in past articles, back many years ago when the county salary system was a “step” system, rather than the current “pay for performance” system, individual employees were promoted through a series of graduated steps. This old system was effective in many organizations and was widely used in industry.
The difficulty was the salary limit a person could reach in their particular job classification. It was possible for some to reach the maximum salary authorized and thus their outlook for pay increase was zero without obtaining a new job classification. To “solve” this issue, the commissioners court decided to pay longevity pay to all employees after they had been in the county for five years. Each year after, all non-elected employees would be paid $120 for each year they had been with the county. Elected officials would be paid $180. This pay was given during the first week of December and became known as the “Christmas bonus.” Bonus checks of over $2,000 were not uncommon. This year, the budget for these payments is $295,000.
The commissioners court attempted to address this issue in one of their recent meetings. Their solution was to continue paying longevity pay to all employees except newly elected officials. Any current elected official who receives this pay will continue to do so; any newly elected official will not receive this pay. (Talk about taking care of yourself and the heck with the new guy!) This “action” on the part of the court will not reduce this year’s budget of about $300,000 for longevity pay.
One interesting thing was discovered in the budget. Remember last year when the budget was being prepared and people were announcing they would be running for various offices. Commissioner One, Cliff Sevier, had an opponent in the upcoming election. Last budget year, the court awarded all of the vommissioners a 25 percent raise of about $26,000. Sevier, facing a possible tough election, with much fanfare, announced that he would only accept an 8 percent raise; a smart political move. Guess what. This year he rescinded his refusal to accept the full $26,000 without any fanfare, and now there it is in this year’s budget.
Of the new head count requested, one position, at a cost of about $80,000 per year, is a public relations officer. As a former Rockwall County judge, let me assure you, this position is clearly not needed and should never be approved.
You can find the proposed budget of Rockwall County on their website at Rockwallcountytexas.com. You might want to look through it yourself and express your views to the commissioners court at the public hearing on the budget in the next several weeks.
Jerry Hogan is a former Rockwall County judge and can be reached at 214-394-4033.