New salary structure tabled after meeting with auditor

 

 

DAVID BARBER

davidb@vanzandtnews.com

 

A proposed fiscal year 2018 budget amendment to address the recent new salary schedule for the Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Department and the VZC Jail was tabled Jan. 29 during a special called meeting of the VZC Commissioners Court.

A new salary schedule for the Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Department and the VZC Jail was approved unanimously Jan. 24 by the VZC Commissioners Court during its regular meeting.

VZC Interim Auditor Sandy Hill spoke to the commissioners’ court Jan. 29 as she was out of town at a training meeting when the initial vote by the commissioners was taken Jan. 24.

“I received a text message from our office that you had asked me to present a budget amendment for the new salary structure during this meeting (Jan. 29),” said Hill. “As I read the Van Zandt News this weekend (Jan. 28 issue), you indicated that you were funding the increase with one cent of the three-cent tax rate increase. Unfortunately, while you were here passing that, I was sitting in a roundtable discussion with other county auditors on how to amend the county budget.

“When the 2018 budget was approved in September, the budget included the $627,000 which was the revenue that would be generated from the three-cent tax rate increase,” continued Hill. “Unfortunately, I do not know if it was through oversight or what but I was not present in those meetings. The appropriations were not included in the budget which means we did not include any expense to spend that money. It is what it is. My job is to monitor the budget and that budget does not include any of that money to be spent. You are asking me to provide a budget amendment to spend part of that money.”

Hill then presented the commissioners copies of two different local government codes regarding county budgets. “You basically have three options before amending the county budget,” said Hill.

The first one presented by Hill was Sec. 111.0108 titled “Special Budget for Revenue Received After Start of Fiscal Year.”

According to the code, “the county auditor or the county judge in a county that does not have a county auditor shall certify to the commissioners court the receipt of revenue from a new source not anticipated before the adoption of the budget and not included in the budget for that fiscal year. On certification, the court may adopt a special budget for the limited purpose of spending the revenue for general purposes or for any of its intended purposes.”

“This code does not apply to our county in this case,” pointed out Hill. “We budgeted the money and we knew it was going to be here. This is not an option for us.”

The next option presented by Hill to the commissioners’ court was Sec. 111.070(b) which reads, “the commissioners court may authorize an emergency expenditure as an amendment to the original budget only in a case of grave public necessity to meet an unusual and unforeseen condition that could not have been included in the original budget through the use of reasonably diligent thought and attention. If the court amends the original budget to meet an emergency, the court shall file a copy of its order amending the budget with the county clerk and the clerk shall attach the copy to the original budget.”

“When you use the emergency, you have to use your fund balance from the previous year,” Hill informed the commissioners. “We don’t have the type of fund balance we need to fund the sheriff’s salary structure increase this year. This option is also not available to us.”

According to Hill, the third option under the local government code said that the commissioners court may amend the budget to transfer an amount budgeted from one item to another without authorizing an emergency expenditure.

“What this code is telling us is that you can always increase your revenue and your expenditures following the codes but what you are asking me to do is increase the budget,” said Hill. “You are asking me to increase expenditures and I have no revenue to back that up.”

Hill then informed the commissioners court that she then began looking around in the budget for some money to move around.

The VZC interim auditor then presented a “pro-rated” salary structure for the VZC sheriff’s department and jail instead of annual costs that were approved Jan. 24 by the commissioners’ court.

“We have already had payroll from October through January,” emphasized Hill. “The total cost to the county this year for the salary structure will be $122,506. We need to move some money around to cover these salary increases that you have approved.”

Hill then presented a line item transfer amendment outlining the transfer of $38,687 from the sheriff’s department office (interest on debt and equipment payments) to employee salaries, social security, retirement, workers comp and unemployment for the sheriff’s department employees.

“That was pretty easy to do but finding and moving the money needed for the jail salary increases was more challenging,” pointed out Hill.

Hill said that she was able to move $45,885 from the general fund to the jail and move $37,934 from indigent health care to the jail for a total of $83,819.

“We have it covered but the downside is we have no more wiggle room in our 2018 budget,” emphasized Hill.

The VZC interim auditor also expressed her concerns about the amount of money the county is spending on inmate housing.

“For the first quarter, we have spent $45,420 on inmate housing which puts us over in our budget around $7,000,” pointed out Hill. “As of Jan. 28, we had 134 total inmates and 27 of them are in Henderson County. If we are giving out salary increases, we have to do something about inmate housing.  I am just being honest with you.” VZC Judge Don Kirkpatrick said that the VZC Jail currently is a 192-bed facility.

“What you are saying is that we cannot spend this money because it was not set up as an expense item,” questioned VZC Pct. 4 Commissioner Tim West. “We can’t spend any of the $627,000. That is what you are saying.”

“The good news is we will have a healthy fund balance for 2019,” responded Hill which drew laughter from those in attendance.

Hill suggested that the matter be tabled and forwarded to VZC Attorney Robert Davis for him to review the local government codes.

The commissioners court agreed with Hill’s suggestion and will bring back the topic for further discussion and a possible decision when the court holds its next regular meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7.

Jan. 24 VZC Commissioners Court meeting

“As we were discussing the three-cent tax rate increase, I sat in a workshop with the sheriff and his supervisors at the sheriff’s office,” said VZC Pct. 3 Commissioner Keith Pearson at the Jan. 24 meeting. “We (commissioners) agreed that one cent of that tax rate increase would go to the sheriff and the jail to administer their raises. The salary increase would go toward entry level jobs, the places where the sheriff is having problems keeping employees. This is not going to shut off the revolving door but it will slow it down. That is the whole intention of this. Right now, the sheriff does not have a full staff to work with.” Pearson was not present at the Jan. 29 special meeting.

Under the new salary structure, which was to take effect in February, the salary increases total $112,256 in the VZC Jail operations; $36,932 in VZC Dispatch; and $14,882 in the VZC Sheriff’s office for a grand total of $164,070.

“This is going to be top pay across the board that is budgeted,” pointed out VZC Chief Deputy Mike Bates Jan. 24. “When we hire people based on experience and their license, it will probably be less pay.”

VZC Pct. 2 Commissioner Virgil Melton Jr. expressed his appreciation to VZC Sheriff Dale Corbett for his efforts in putting together the new salary schedule.

“The raises are going to be a big help to us,” emphasized Bates. “Right now, we are spending more money with a revolving door. I have three openings for patrol and one opening for a sergeant. We still may not be where we want to be with the salaries but we are going to now be in the fight with these salary increases.”

Kirkpatrick spoke on the issue of a revolving door among the sheriff’s department and jail employees during the Jan. 24 meeting.

“At some point and time, we need to sit down, come together and put together a plan that when we hire somebody that they sign a contract with VZC,” pointed out Kirkpatrick. “When we put someone through school and we pay the expense for educating that person, that person should stay with VZC first. Other counties have that in place. We need to have that here.”

“The flipside to that is you may have a disgruntled employee on your hands,” responded Bates. “It is a catch-22. If we can get the people to stay, it will make my job a lot easier. We are getting where we need to be and I thank you for that.”

Prior to the discussion and vote on the subject, Pct. 2 citizen Ronnie Jones spoke to the commissioners’ court during the public comments portion of the Jan. 24 meeting about the proposed new salary schedule.

“When Lindsay Ray was sheriff, you approved six deputies to be added to the patrol so that we would have two deputies for each precinct, patrolling 24 hours a day,” said Jones. “You ended up not adding any patrols in the precincts. We still have one patrol north and one patrol south. We still do not have the coverage we need. I was told by the auditor at that time that the money went for pay raises in the sheriff’s department. One cent of the three-cent tax increase would go to the sheriff’s department or the jail so that we can keep our employees in the county. Now you are talking about both the sheriff’s department and the jail. Maybe you are just talking about the jail. If you are talking about giving increases, you need to talk about all county employees. No one area deserves more money than another. The sheriff’s department has had raises.”