County hikes officials’ pay during national disaster
Dave Rogers / For The Record
The first pay raise for Orange County’s elected officials in nine years passed 4-1 in a commissioners’ court meeting held in the midst of a federally declared disaster.
Only Commissioner Jody Crump voted against the resolution to jack up pay for 18 politicians an average of $11,000 per person.
The meeting took place Tuesday night at the Expo Center.
It’s been the launch pad for the county’s ongoing rescue and recovery efforts from what is being called the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.
The Expo Center on FM 1442 has been a beehive of activity since Tropical Storm Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rain on the county Aug. 26-30.
It hosts the county’s Emergency Operations Center and has served as a staging site for more than 1,000 state and federal first responders.
So why was it necessary to hold a court session during an ongoing disaster response?
Tuesday, there was still water over many county roads, including FM 1442 near the Expo Center.
The meeting, with a 16-item agenda, began at 7 p.m. when the county was operating under an 8 p.m. public safety curfew.
Carlton, who is also Orange County’s emergency management director, said that the county was under a deadline to vote up or down on the elected officials’ pay.
“We had put in the paper [in a required legal-ad posting] that it was going to be voted on Sept. 5, so we did it instead of re-posting and having to wait another 10 days,” he said.
The outcome of the vote was not a surprise.
Carlton said recently that the county was sitting on about $3 million more than it needed for what state lawmakers call a “rainy day fund.”
Before Harvey made its way into the Gulf of Mexico, commissioners voted the county’s 250 non-union employees a 5 percent pay increase on Aug. 2.
They then offered a two-year, 7 percent boost to the sheriff’s deputies union’s 130 members.
It was rejected.
Commissioners first voted 3-1 for this elected officials raise Aug. 16, with Commissioner Barry Burton absent. But law requires them to post and allow comment for 10 days on any proposed raise for elected officials before making it final.
Besides the county judge and the four county commissioners – Crump, Burton, Johnny Trahan and John Gothia – Justice of the Peace Hershel Stagner was the only other elected official at Tuesday’s meeting.
Stagner said he was already at the EOC because of his job.
After many weeks and numerous proposals, last month Carlton came up with the schedule of raises agreed upon Tuesday.
It would cost the county about $200,000 per year and not include phone or car allowances.
Sheriff Keith Merritt’s salary was set at $104,000 and the county judge’s pay was set 1 percent higher, at $105,400.
Salaries for officials elected county-wide (district clerk, county clerk, tax assessor-collector and treasurer) were set at $78,000 and those elected by precinct (justices of the peace and constables) was set at $72,800.
Percent-wise, the pay raises for elected officials ranged from 5.4 percent for the sheriff to 23.6 percent for County Clerk Brandy Robertson, Tax Assessor-Collector Karen Fisher and Treasurer Christy Khoury.
The pay for the commissioners’ positions goes up 15.3 percent, from $63,118 to $72,800, while the county judge pay will go up 22.9 percent, from $85,500.
Carlton, Crump and Burton are running for re-election next year. They’ve all previously said they will defer any pay boost until they win re-election and start their next term, in 2019.
Commissioners have until Oct. 1 to approve a 2017-18 county budget. Their votes in favor of pay raises can be undone by other votes before that deadline.