The first input of the county budget for next year was due to the judge this past week. In this input, each budget holder submits to the judge what they need to operate their function for the coming year.
Included in their submission will be all their capital costs, such as new computers, as well as their request for any new employees.
The judge then takes all the requests, adds in additional monies required for ongoing projects, and produces the total county projected expenses,. This number is then compared to the county projected revenue for the next year.
This revenue comes from property tax assessments as well as fines, grants, interest accumulated, and various fees. Most of the data produced up to this point comes from the County Auditor and her staff.
Now the judge has the ability to look at what might be available for new projects, new equipment not included in the initial submissions, or new ways of doing business.
And, as anyone that has ever dealt with budgets already knows, the “needs” almost always exceed the available funds.
There are several suggestions that have been offered on some areas of focus the Commissioners Court might look at as they review the judge’s 1st draft budget presented to them for input. Two of these suggestions are obvious cost savings for the county .
As mentioned, several times in past articles, the Strategic Plan developed by 135 citizens in the year 2011, 10 years ago, recommended that the county go to one “911” emergency center. Currently there are two such centers in the county.
One such center is operated by Rockwall City. This center takes 911 calls from Rockwall City and Heath. The second center is operated by the county sheriff, and it takes the 911 calls from the rest of the county locations. Approximately 8-10 employees are in each center. The equipment in each center is the same.
These centers are located about 3 miles from each other. They dispatch the 911 calls they receive to the same emergency ambulance service.
There is no valid reason these two centers could not be quickly combined as originally recommended in the Strategic Plan developed 10 years ago. This would save both headcount and dollars for both the county and the city.
Another area of cost saving would be the longevity pay which is given to elected officials. Originally this additional pay was given to all elected officials after they had been in office for 5 years. They receive $180 for each year they have been in office over 5 with a maximum payment of $3500.
This was changed last year. The Commissioners Court, where all 5 members had been elected for over 5 years at the time of the vote, changed the pay so only those elected officials which are currently receiving the longevity pay would continue to do so.
No newly elected officials would participate in this “bonus” program (which is paid the first of December each year). (Talk about taking care of yourself and the heck with the new guy!!)
There is no rational reason for this longevity pay for elected officials. They all currently receive over $96,000 per year in salary plus a very good medical and retirement plan.
This program was first introduced years ago when the pay of all county employees was low, and this was an incentive to entice employees to stay with the county. That has clearly gone away, and it is time to update this out-of-date program.
As a new program to be added to the budget, which the county has dropped the ball on, is the issue of “Open Space in the County”. This again was recommended in the Strategic Plan 10 years ago. The issue is simple. “What do we want the county to look like in the year 2035?”
A dedicated group of volunteers have been trying to work this issue for the last 10 years without real support from the county. A strong commitment to this program needs to be made and a strong, hard charging person from the county needs to be assigned to help lead this effort forward. If they don’t accept this role, the effort will fail.
Finally, the Strategic Plan needs to be updated. It is 10 years old and has had no update since the citizens created it those long years ago. Each of our communities in the county have their strategic plans. They have citizens that are actively participating in the review and update of their plans on a regular basis.
Why can’t the county get on board and make sure that the county plan interfaces with our communities’ plans?
Jerry Hogan is a former Rockwall County Judge and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org