County court mulls pay increases

Cost-of-living raise of 5 percent gains favor; final vote set for Sept. 21

Bill Spinks
Waxahachie Daily Light
The Ellis County Historic Courthouse.

Methods of giving raises to county employees took up a lot of discussion on Tuesday as the Ellis County Commissioners’ Court began to put the finer touches on the proposed 2021-2022 budget.

County Auditor Janet Martin presented a list of points seeking information on certain parts of the budget. Among those were increases in pay for employees, whether in the form of a cost-of-living increase (COLA) or a per-capita payment. The possibility of merit pay increases for department heads was also broached.

Commissioners appeared to settle on the 5-percent COLA across the board along with merit bumps for supervisors. County Judge Todd Little said a 5-percent raise would result in a budget expenditure of $4.7 million. However, the addition of merit pay for department heads plus elected officials’ salaries raises the amount to $4.9 million.

With budgeted salaries set at $4.4 million under the proposed no-new-revenue property tax rate, the extra money would have to come from either American Recovery Plan funds or a higher tax rate. “There’s a lot of moving parts,” Little said.

The county did not award any raises last year because of economic uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The court recognized the need to catch up this year.

Among new employees on the new budget are four sheriff’s deputies, two dispatchers, an assistant auditor and an attorney for the County Attorney’s Office, each of which won’t start until April. A total of six road workers will be able to begin work on Oct. 1.

The court will meet again on Tuesday for further budget discussions and will finalize the 2021-2022 budget and tax rate at its Sept. 21 meeting.

All commissioners were present, including Precinct 2 Commissioner Lane Grayson, who publicly revealed at the start of Tuesday’s meeting that he and his family have recovered from COVID-19. Grayson thanked numerous well-wishers for their support.

“It was a tough row to hoe,” Grayson said. “Our whole household was blindsided. It was a pretty rough go, but the Lord was good to my family. We survived something that’s been hard for a lot of families. It was an eye-opener.“

Other items

• Commissioners heard a presentation from Dr. Kevin Fegan, president of Navarro College, on Texas House Bill 885, which allows Navarro to pursue offering a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree. Fegan said courses will be offered at both the Waxahachie and Corsicana campuses and that the process of accreditation is underway. Classes would begin in the fall of 2023.

• The court agreed to participate in the Major Events Reimbursement Program in support of the 2021 Texas NHRA Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex.

• Approved consent agenda items included previous meeting minutes, acceptance of reports, supplemental pay for 12 County Attorney office employees, and several budgetary line-item transfers.

• The court tabled the use of surplus funds in the Sheriff’s Department budget to pay off compensatory time balances. Commissioners noted the need to compensate other county employees and agreed to address that at their next meeting. Sheriff Brad Norman said a number of unfilled positions in his office — mostly detention officers — have resulted in unspent funds, and his office has accumulated approximately $279,000 in comp time.

• Commissioners authorized the transfer of $750,000 of surplus Sheriff’s Department funds to the county’s new vehicle replacement fund.

• A notice of special election was approved for Aug. 31 for the Texas House District 10 vacancy. Also approved were election day vote centers.