Commissioners hear from citizens, Sheriff’s Dept. on compensation, propose same tax rate
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Several citizens shared their frustrations regarding a lack of promised pay increases for county employees in the proposed fiscal year 2020 Coryell County budget, during the Coryell County Commissioners’ Court meeting held Monday morning.
One by one, citizen after citizen stepped up to the podium to share their frustration and disdain after finding out that step pay raises that had been previously promised last year hadn’t rolled over into the proposed FY 2020 budget.
During the last Commissioners Court meeting, there was discussion over proposed salary supplement increases for the County’s judges as compensation for sitting on the Juvenile Justice Board, which some citizens considered to be “hidden raises.”
Long-time Coryell County resident Donna Taylor addressed the court to share her frustrations, which were aimed at County Judge Roger Miller, in particular.
“No judges deserve a pay raise more than every other county worker’s two percent cost of living,” Taylor said. “These raises were hidden in the Juvenile Probation budget, and the amount was set by these judges as the pay they think they deserve for sitting on the Juvenile Probation Board and given to themselves as payment the state of Texas does not give them. How much is too much for you judges?”
Former Sheriff’s Office deputy and former jailer Josiah Mace spoke up next.
“There’s not really a day when you’re a deputy that you’re not having to do something more to make ends meet,” Mace said.
Mace questioned why the previously agreed-upon plan for pay raises was put to the side.
“I spoke with Judge Miller privately, and he said the only way the Sheriff’s Office is going to get pay raises is if we change the insurance but every other thing that comes up, every other department that comes up, every other new position that comes up, I hear y’all say, ‘Yeah, there’s money in the budget for that.’ So why is there not money to pay employees that we already have, and that bust their ass, for lack of a better term, every single day?”
Mace added that it was up to the Commissioners to represent the citizens and change the budget, rather than letting the Judge make the decisions.
Communications Supervisor Debbie Brown shared that she was present when the “baby steps pay raises” were discussed last year, where the raise would be $3,000 for deputies and $2,000 for everyone else, and then swapped the next year and so on.
“So, everybody was looking forward to that. I’ve got single mothers in my dispatch office. The jail has single parents in their jail that look forward to that all year long,” Brown said. “People look forward to those things, and then all of a sudden they think they’re getting their $3,000 and we’re hearing that because the Sheriff didn’t ask for it this year in Commissioners’ Court, he’s not going to get it? I think there’s a problem with that.”
Former Coryell County Sheriff Johnny Burks fought for pay raises and Sheriff Williams and Chief Wilcox have fought for pay raises, Brown added.
Brown complained about the low pay and shared how much training dispatchers and jailers go through to be able to do their jobs.
“If you don’t pay people what they need, you’re only training them to go to other departments,” Brown said. “You know this. The sheriff has, every sheriff has, told you this in the past. Why can’t we get the help we deserve?”
Sheriff Scott Williams also spoke during the Citizens’ Forum and shared that his employees are the first to respond to incidents about 99 percent of the time. When talking about paying someone and using a job description to determine that pay, Williams said, “you can only put so much on a piece of paper.”
Williams added that he hadn’t even asked for additional employees in the fiscal year 2020 budget. Williams said that most of the time, there were three or four deputies covering 1,100 square-miles and dispatchers were juggling so many calls, trying to make sure help gets to the right place.
“I didn’t ask this year for that $2,000 and $3,000 again because last year, I assumed and Judge, you were sitting right down the row from me right here, when we discussed it in court. I didn’t ask for it, I assumed. You know what happens when you assume,” Williams said. “But I’ve never been a guy that if I ask somebody for something and they tell me they’re going to give it to me, why should I ask for it again? It’s all about a man’s word.”
During the budget workshop portion of the meeting, Judge Roger Miller addressed misinformation regarding the previously proposed increase to the supplements provided to the County Judge, the two District Judges and the County Court-at-Law Judge for serving on the Juvenile Justice Board. In a previous article, the Leader-Press reported that as an $18,000 salary increase. That information was inaccurate and the result of a misunderstanding during an interview with Commissioner Kyle Matthews who said “Judge Miller’s overall is about $18,000 a year,” when asked about the “hidden raises” and the salary supplements discussed during the previous Commissioners’ Court meeting. Matthews was referring to the total supplement amount, not the total increase.
Miller explained that there is a statutory requirement, H.R. Code 152-0561, that lays out what the Juvenile Board does, specific to Coryell County, and who must be on it. It states “The juvenile board of Coryell County is composed of the county judge, the district judge or judges whose district includes Coryell County, and the judges of the county courts-at-law of Coryell County.”
It also says that the Commissioners Court “shall pay the juvenile board members additional annual compensation set by the commissioners court at not less than the amount paid to a board member under this section on October 1, 1994. Compensation under this section must be the same amount for each board member.”
Miller shared that the records for the past 10 years show the salary supplement paid out to each judge, with the largest portion coming out of the Juvenile Probation department’s budget. The District Attorney’s salary and compensation is directly tied to the District Judge(s), also.
Donna Taylor asked Miller during the meeting, whether former County Judge John Firth ever took his salary supplement.
“I can’t say that he took the money,” Miller responded. “I can say he was allocated the money, and as far as I know, it was paid to him, but I have not verified.”
After Taylor asked if Miller would verify that before the next meeting, County Auditor Ben Roberts explained that Firth did take the supplement.
“Every judge that I’ve served under, 25 years, has received a compensation from the Juvenile Board,” Roberts said.
Last year, the amount for the salary supplement was $10,955.90. The rate is set for everyone cannot be higher than $18,000, which the proposed budget did show as the amount for the supplement for FY 2020.
The director of Juvenile Probation spoke up about the compensation coming from her department’s budget.
“I have a lot to lose here by standing here and talking today, but y’all need to look at that last line [of the H.R. code] also,” Kathie Jo Jones said. “It said of the General Fund of the County. It did not say out of Juvenile Probation’s budget.”
She added that it wasn’t fair that she was made to budget her department’s expenses to accommodate those salary supplements.
When asked if bringing back the promised raises was even possible, Miller said that the county needs to first propose a tax rate and that nothing budget-wise has been voted on.
Matthews addressed the crowd and said that a request for those raises does have to come from the Sheriff’s Office.
Matthews said that the original request last year was a $10,000 raise per employee.
“There’s no way that the county could afford that, so we worked on some stuff, but it has to take smaller baby steps than even that, in my personal opinion,” Matthews said. “You’re talking about a department that is huge. It is the largest department inside the county.”
Matthews said that yes, the court agreed to the raise last year, but that it’s not possible to agree “from year to year” on that.
He added that he didn’t know if the request for raises would even have been approved if the Sheriff had requested this year.
When Matthews told Williams that the Sheriff is responsible for creating a budget for his department, Williams said that he submits a budget that gets “chopped all to pieces by people that don’t know the first thing about what I do.”
Williams added that his budget requests get cut without his input.
“Judge Miller took it upon himself to castrate my budget before he presented it to y’all,” Williams said. “I gave a promise to the citizens of Coryell County, every one of them. If I don’t have the tools, the funds and by gosh, the people, to turn wheels out here on this street and fight the crime, then I’ve laid down on my promise.”
Miller later responded to a complaint that the budget ought to be looked at from all sides and said that his job as County Judge was to look at the budget as a budget for the whole county.
The Commissioners decided to lower the proposed supplement from $18,000 to the previous amount of $10,955.90 for the County Judge, District Judges and Court-At-Law Judge. They also agreed on $7,000 for an additional supplement separate from the Judicial Board for the two District Judges and the Court-At-Law Judge. The District Attorney will also receive the additional $7,000 due to his salary being tied to the District Judges’. This means that Miller no longer is receiving a raise from his salary supplement. Additionally, the Commissioners removed the proposed Purchasing Department, which totaled $86,254.10, from the budget completely.
The Commissioners also agreed on a proposed tax rate of $0.5453 per $100 valuation, which is the same rate as the previous fiscal year.
The first proposed hearing for the tax rate will be Monday, September 9, at 9 a.m. and the second hearing will be Thursday, September 12, 2019 at 7 p.m., both in the Commissioners’ Courtroom in Gatesville.