David Ball – For The Record

The Orange County Commissioners Court addressed elected officials salaries for the 2015-2016 fiscal year at their regular meeting on the afternoon of August 31.

A lengthy  discussion ensued about adopting elected officials salaries for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

County Judge Brint Carlton made a motion to freeze elected officials salaries for a year and see where things go overall after the budget workshop on September 1. That motion died for lack of a second.

John Banken, Precinct 3 commissioner, introduced a motion to accept the elected officials salaries as they currently are and work on putting salaries where they should be if there is enough money after the budget proceedings. That motion passed 3 to 2 with Banken, Precinct 1 Commissioner David Dubose and Precinct 2 Commissioner Barry Burton voting yea and Carlton and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jody Crump voting no.

The court didn’t vote to raise salaries, that vote only gave the opportunity to do so later if there is money in the budget after all other expenses are met and then they can consider employee raises first, said Burton.

The court can come down later on elected official salaries but can’t go up if there are funds.

“It’s not a raise putting those officials where they should be according to the pay matrix. Like it or not, the pay matrix is in effect for all county employees and dictates what elected officials should be paid according to years of service,” he said.

The proposed salaries are as follows:

County Judge Brint Carlton- $85,500

Precinct 1 County Commissioner David Dubose- $66,839

Precinct 2 County Commissioner Barry Burton- $63,118

Precinct 3 County Commissioner John Banken- $63,118

Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jody Crump- $66,839

District Clerk Vickie Edgerly- $74,500

Tax Assessor-Collector Lynda Gunstream- $74,500

Treasurer Christy Khoury- $66,839

County Clerk Brandy Robertson- $63,118

Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace David Peck- $66,839

Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Derry Dunn- $74,500

Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Joy Dubose-Simonton- $63,118

Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Rodney Price- $70,500

Precinct 1 Constable Chris Humble- $66,839

Precinct 2 Constable David Cagle- $63,118

Precinct 3 Constable Mark Philpott- $66,839

Precinct 4 Constable Weldon Peveto- $74,500

Sheriff Keith Merritt- $104,000

County Court at Law Judge Mandy White-Rogers- $154,000

County Court at Law 2 Judge Troy Johnson- $154,000

The county will pay the district court judges $15,000 each.

Prior to the vote, Carlton said though the matrix is in place, it’s not followed as it is supposed to be. He said he was unsure if the court could increase everyone’s salaries due to budgetary considerations.

He proposed an increase to non-elected personnel first and freezing elected officials salaries and “see where the money goes” after the budget workshops.

Douglas Manning, assistant county attorney, said the salaries can’t be adopted any higher than the salaries proposed. Dubose said the salaries can be adopted then but it didn’t necessarily mean that would be the salaries adopted after the budget.

Dubose said if there is no money left over they can’t be given a raise. Sheriff Keith Merritt said the routine has been to always give the salary increases after what was left over in the budget.

District Clerk Vickie Edgerly said he thought salary increases were always based on the elected officials’ experience in the job.

Carlton said elected officials’ pay remains the same through each term whenever they run for office unless there’s a Cost Of Living Adjustment. He cited as examples the President of the United States, senators, representatives and the governor of Texas.

“We’re public servants and our pay should be what it is,” he said.

Edgerly said that is comparing apples to oranges because those elected officials are beyond the local level.

“These are self-made people already at the state and national level. These jobs are our livelihood. They’re careers for us. It’s a lot less costly for us to stay here than to create a new position every time someone leaves. We’ll be segregated,” she said.

Carlton said he doesn’t see the issue as individuals, but as officeholders.

Edgerly said it would be a case for elected officials as with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office where an employee is paid more than the elected official.

“It will be like the sheriff’s office. There shouldn’t be separation between management and employees,” she said.

Carlton said he favored freezing salaries for a year.

“I’m hard put to affect a raise for elected officials before non-elected employees,” he said.

Burton said a freeze will be no opportunity to give raises. Merritt said his case was unique where an employee makes more money than he does.

“That gap will be wider. Two years ago we had four (with salaries higher than his),” he said.

Carlton said the court could amend the motion and take no action after the budget workshop. Banken said he was worried there wouldn’t be enough time for the salaries to be published in the newspaper of record by the drop-dead date.

Treasurer Christy Khoury it will have to posted by then (according to state law). Merritt agreed even if the salaries increase by one penny they must be published.

Burton asked if there was enough time.

“We’re handcuffing ourselves, aren’t we?” he asked.

Auditor Mary Johnson said a statute of the Texas Local Government Code states the salaries must be adopted 10 days before the budget. The court will adopt a budget on September 23 and it has to be published no later than September 13.

Carlton motion to freeze salaries died for lack of a second.

Banken’s motion then passed 3 to 2.

An Interlocal Agreement for law enforcement services between Orange County and the city of Pine Forest were approved.

Weldon Peveto, Precinct 4 constable, explained the Pine Forest City Council voted to disband the police department on June 25 because they couldn’t afford it. On August 18, however, they voted to hire the constable office’s deputies to work 20 hours a month for traffic safety and criminal investigations. The city will pay the county who will pay back the deputies through a reimbursement in the vehicle allowance.

Peveto said this arrangement is not unique in the state of Texas with larger counties having this policy including Jefferson County.

Banken reminded Peveto they need to go through the county attorney’s office to ensure the legal paperwork is appropriate. Carlton asked if an indemnity clause was added. Peveto answered yes.

Sheriff and constable’s fees for the 2015-2016 fiscal year were approved. The fee to serve a Writ of Assistance for Repossession of an Aircraft Retrieval will be $125 and $35 an hour per deputy respectively. If the Writ of Personal Property Retrieval exceeds two hours ti will be $50 an hour.

Peveto said this will be a help to law enforcement and it “puts some teeth into it,” civil standbys, because they “can be dangerous.”

The Interlocal Agreement with the Texas Automobile Burglary and Theft Prevention Authority was approved. The 2016 grant funds the Southeast Texas Auto Theft Task Force.

Orange County has been participating in the task force since 1997. It cost the county no money to participate and this will continue their agreement.