Commissioners approve county pay raises 3-2
By Lindsey Vaculin
County employees will see a bit more in their paychecks after the Milam County Commissioners Court voted 3-2 to approve a 2 percent across the board pay increase based on the terms of settlement of the Luminant law suit against the Milam County Appraisal District on March 13.
Commissioners held a workshop meeting on March 9 to discuss the raises.
“One of the things that came up, caused us to call this workshop was the questioning of the interpretation of the 2 percent, there’s a restriction on the 2 percent increase whether we can grant a 2 percent increase on the outcome on the settlement of the Luminant case,” Milam County Judge David Barkemeyer said. “Regardless of how we come out in our debate if you will, with that language, we have the fact that our employees based on the survey we did last year are falling farther and farther behind if you will. That’s why I say where’s the alternative? We are amongst the lowest counties around us being paid so we have a problem, what are we going to do?”
Commissioner Donald Shuffield said the way he sees it the money is allocated for a 2 percent raise and the county is obligated and needs to give that.
“If we come up short we’re going to have to get that from somewhere else because the raise is in the budget and we’ve got to do it,” he said.”
“We clearly stated we were putting the money in there in case we have the money from winning the Luminant case,” Barkemeyer said. “I understand you questioning that, but my position is that we clearly state, put it in the paper under that budget increase that was announced that these would only be given if we win the appraisal district’s position otherwise it won’t be given.”
“I’m going to argue with you on that because what the appraisal district came up with, the $460 million is irrelevant, because Luminant didn’t give them all they asked for, they should have to give them a correct amount of the appraisal,” Shuffield said. “Wayne Fisher and them hired an expert to come in and they got all the information and that’s when they came up with about $305 million appraisal. To me that is, the $305 million is the real number; the real number is what they paid. To me we won.”
“What’s winning,” Shuffield asked. “Four- hundred and sixty million dollars is. I never dreamed of us winning that, so are we going to consider the $305 million or the $460 million is a ghost number out there.”
Barkemeyer said that 2016 used all the budget and then some.
“In a private discussion I was at with Wayne Fisher and Bernard Johnson, they presented to me the appraisal their attorney had done and said our findings are that the value is even higher than the appraisal district’s value has been assessed at and he indicated to me that they felt they would be able to sustain the appraisals value,” Barkemeyer said. “My commitment to the community is if Luminant’s value was not sustained there would not be any pay raises and that’s my position on it, that’s my belief.”
The court also discussed the pending issues with insurance rates being raised for county employees.
“I would prefer to keep health insurance as is or as close to as is and give pay raises at a later date,” Barkemeyer said. “I am one of five, you guys have to vote, that is my vote but I would vote against a pay raise now because that’s my commitment. I cannot in good conscious go back on my word. I would certainly be up to spending up to couple hundred thousand on health care.”
Barkemeyer said that if the county keeps the same Scott & White coverage they currently have the proposed premiums go up right at 19 to 20 percent.
“In dollar terms that is $200,000 or so, so we have that issue facing us as well,” he said. “That’s the reason I put the health care on the agenda. The health care committee met with Scott & White representatives last week and asked them to come back with an alternative and we got something from them yesterday that was kind of confusing.”
Barkemeyer said that if the county decides to go with the pay increase that is about $140,000 to $160,000 in the general fund. The 19 to 20 percent health care increase is another $200,000 plus.
Barkemeyer stated that his position is to forgo the raises and that has been his opinion in public meetings and in articles in the paper.
“That’s my position, now there are four other voices here that are equal to me,” he said.
Precinct 3 Commissioner John Fisher said he is for the raises and that the county can’t keep putting it off.
“How are we going to do both,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Opey Watkins said. “Salary increase and insurance, I don’t know.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Jeff Muegge said the county should just go ahead and give the raises now since they are looking at them for the following year anyway.
“I can’t get a good, experienced worker with our benefits,” Shuffield said. “It is very important to look out for our employees.”
Muegge and Fisher agreed.
“I’m sitting here because I lost John Redington to Falls County at a $10,000 increase,” Milam County District Attorney Bill Torrey said.
Commissioners also approved a request from Milam County Sheriff David Greene to grant a $2,000 pay adjustment to Sheriff’s Department and Jail employees that would not involve any changes to the existing budget.
Commissioners also approved moving forward with going out for bids for construction of an office building in Thorndale for Precinct 4 JP and Constable.