In Bowie County Commissioners Court yesterday, Commissioner Sammy Stone said, “There seems to be confusion and misunderstanding with the motion I made last Thursday” to reduce employee salary by 15%.
Stone made a motion to “amend and clarify” the order of the Court “to reduce department employee salary budgets by 15%… department employee salaries, not each individual employee.”
Further discussion showed Stone’s intent was to make the cuts permanent, but County Legal Advisor Carol Dalby pointed out that Stone’s motion could only affect the remainder of the fiscal year, through September 30 2014. If it is the intent of the Court to continue the salary cuts into the next fiscal year, they will have to address that in the upcoming budget hearings.
There was quite a bit of discussion as to which departments and/or employees were under the Court’s control. Dalby explained that the Commissioners have direct control only over the employees in their precincts. The Court can order all departments to cut their salaries by 15%, but department heads have control over exactly how that is to be done.
There was no discussion of how to implement the cuts for people making minimum wage.
County Commissioners, and other elected officials, are exempt from these salary cuts, according to state law.
The Court voted 4-1 to enact the salary cuts; Judge Lacy was the only dissenting vote. Although the order goes into effect on August 1, the first paychecks affected by the cuts will be those issued on August 15th. Four pay periods are affected by the order – those ending August 15 and 31, and September 15 and 30.
Commissioner Stone had asked that his agenda item – #12, the clarification of the salary cuts – be moved ahead of agenda item #11, the request by department heads to address the budget cuts. Stone claimed it would “possibly save considerable time.” That turned out not to be the case – when county department heads were allowed to address the salary cuts, their remarks and the discussion which ensued took over half an hour. Two letters were read, from Justices of the Peace Nancy Talley and Gibson “Hoot” Hadaway, and then statements were made by department heads in attendance: Sheriff James Prince, Tax Assessor-Collector Toni Barron, Chief of Juvenile Probation Harlan Jones, District Clerk Billy Fox, Chief Adult Probation Officer Jack Pappas, County Clerk Tina Petty, and District Attorney Jerry Rochelle. All were in opposition to the salary cuts.
Today, Judge Lacy issued the following statement to all department heads:
As you all now know, the Commissioners Court (by a vote of 4-1) has ordered that 15% be cut from employee salaries in each county department effective August 1st. I have received many phone calls with questions and concerns about what this means and whether or not there is any way to undo it.
I believe that I have come up with a definitive amount to possibly avoid the salary cuts in this budget year. If we can work together to find $200,000 in non-salary cuts, I will put an item on the July 28th agenda asking the commissioners to rescind their previous order and substitute the non-salary cuts in the place of the salary cuts. This will be for the remaining two months of this budget year (August and September).
Figure out how much salary reduction has been ordered in your department. Then look for other areas in your respective departments from which that amount can be cut. I realize that everyone has already been hit with cuts and reductions, and this is just one more. However, if we can save jobs, or preserve the salaries of our hard-working employees, I believe that we should do everything possible to make that happen.
This is all so unnecessary. First of all our employees did not create this problem. Second all the Commissioners had to do was order the return of the $3.4 million of property tax revenue diverted to cover-up past wrong-doing. Then they could release designated and restricted funds for services already performed and our budget will finish in the black with the planned surplus for the rainy day fund. But nobody’s listening, so let’s find $200,000 in non-salary cuts.
Please work on this and submit your ideas to my office. If you have questions or need any assistance, feel free to contact my office.
During discussion of the salary cuts, Judge Lacy noted that of the approximately $900,000 in cuts the Court had ordered earlier this year, County Auditor William Tye had yet to implement a little over $100,000 of them. Lacy and Tye agreed to meet and make sure those cuts were made, and then Lacy announced that he would look for a way to cut the remainder of the $200,000 from the budget to offset the salary cuts.
Recently, Tye asked the Court for permission to apply for a tax-anticipation loan to cover anticipated shortfalls for the remainder of the fiscal year. The Court approved applying for up to $5 million, and Tye later asked for the full amount, claiming it would cover all the expenses for the rest of the year, and leave a small surplus. There was no discussion of how those projections were off by an amount sufficient to require the salary cuts.
As of 5PM today, at least two county employees have been laid off to comply with the Court’s order.