After what may be the most controversial budget season in recent years, Grimes County Commissioners Court approved the 2023-24 budget and tax rate at its Sept. 6 Regular Meeting. After public hearings which elicited citizen comments about salary inequities for women and law enforcement, commissioners passed both the $36,337,773.55 balanced budget and the $0.450339 per $100 valuation tax rate with 4-1 record votes. Pct. 2 Commissioner David Tullos cast the dissenting votes.
Adding to inflationary challenges on everything from fuel to copy paper, were the HR Compensation Consultants (HRCC) salary survey, Texas House Bill (HB) 22 and construction of a new business annex.
The HRCC survey was commissioned to enhance Grimes County’s recruitment and retention efforts. The recommended salary adjustments, equity pay and cost of living adjustments (COLA) totaled $1.06 million.
The recently passed HB 22 created a grant program to benefit rural sheriff, district attorney and constable’s offices by increasing pay and equipment purchasing power. Grimes County will have to fund grant allowances from the General Fund and reimburse itself when grant funds are received.
As for the $5 million business annex, County Judge Joe Fauth predicts completion at the end of the 2024 budget year. Funding will come from $2.9 million in ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds and Fund Balance.
Budget workshops began the end of July and wrangling over the preliminary six-figure deficit resulted in some contentious exchanges between commissioners and with some department heads about HRCC’s recommended salary increases for specific departments. At one meeting, when it was pointed out that the survey was position-driven, Commissioner Tullos left the court temporarily rather than be “lectured.”
Concerns that HRCC’s recommendations might not be implemented prompted department heads and elected officials’return to court with additional budget cuts to ensure salary increases for their staff. By the Aug. 28 workshop, the near $117,000 deficit had been reduced to a $4,406.94 overage following Commissioner Tullos’ suggestion to cap 15 salary increases at $10,000.
Going “to bat” for elected officials, Commissioner Tullos noted this was the first year that the treasurer, county clerk, district clerk and tax assessor- collector salaries were not increased the same amount as commissioners. He proposed using the overage to correct it but the court disagreed, and when it came to a record vote on elected officials’ salaries, Commissioner Tullos cast the dissenting vote.
The final budget includes salary increases of approximately $1 million, a 2% COLA and $350,000 going into contingency to maintain six months of reserves.
Since the Auditor is under the direction of the District Court, not all positions were reviewed by HRCC.At Auditor Jessi Murphy’s request, she will receive the 2% COLA, her staff a 3% COLA and one employee will receive equity pay.
Richards residents Michelle and Rick Gremillion spoke during the budget’s public hearing about pay inequities for women and law enforcement.
Michelle Gremillion said, “This entire court has purported to support law enforcement; however, there is a faction on this court that appears to be negatively affecting and targeting law enforcement and women.”
She continued, “There are 15 positions that are affected by the $10,000 salary cap proposed in this budget which is against the salary adjustment recommendation. Ten of the 15 are women, that’s two-thirds. Eight of the 15 are law enforcement, that’s over half. Two positions most grossly affected are law enforcement held by women… Is this salary discrimination due to sex? Is this a means to defund our law enforcement? Do we undervalue women by not paying fair market value? Do we undervalue law enforcement by not paying fair market value?”
Rick Gremillion told the court, “There is no passing the buck” and “With great authority comes great responsibility.”
He advised that the skills the employee brings, the demand in the market for those skills and talents and the difficulty of replacing skilled employees are the factors determining “why some jobs pay minimum wage and some jobs pay six and seven figures.”
Judge preferred 5-0
In comments to the Examiner, Judge Fauth was pleased the budget was approved but said, “As much time as we dedicated for budget discussion, and as many adjustments we made through those workshops for all, in my mind, we should have received a 5-0 vote.”
Reminding that last year Commissioners Court reduced property taxes by almost 5 cents per $100 valuation and this year almost 3 cents, he said, “We are collectively reducing the rate to the benefit of our citizens while maintaining services at a decent level.”
As for perceived salary inequities, Judge Fauth called the salaries “fair” but agreed that Commissioner Tullos’ recommended salary cap and adjustments impacted more women and the Grimes County Sheriff’s Office.
He acknowledged there is a greater demand for services prompted by growth and a need for more deputies and road improvements but believes “most folks” would be unwilling to see a tax rate increase; however, the budget provides newer equipment for Road & Bridge and newer, safer vehicles for law enforcement.
Referring to several facility improvements and the Justice Center, Fauth said, “Thus far we have completed these projects without any debt or increase in the tax rates.”
At press time, Commissioner Tullos had not responded to the Examiner regarding his three dissenting votes.
Meetings may be viewed in their entirety at https://grimescountytx.granicus.com.
•County residents Joy Walkoviak, McKenzie Walkoviak, Jessica Tan and John Williams discussed concerns about Realtor Nancy Perry’s flea market at FM 149 and CR 220: water, sewage, noise, alcohol use, traffic and shipping containers.
•Real estate investor Phillip LeFlore spoke about the lack of sales tax collection in Anderson because so many buildings are occupied by nonprofits and government and lack of knowledge that county property was for sale.
•Anderson Mayor Marc Benton readdressed the Town of Anderson’s proposal to purchase the County’s maintenance office on Main Street pointing out that state statute allows a political subdivision to donate to another political subdivision.
•Whitehall VFD Fire Chief Freeman Vickers spoke about increased life and safety hazards since SH 249 opened, increased traffic and motor vehicle accidents on CR 206 and requested road surface improvements to CR 306.
Burn Ban: The burn ban remains in place for 90 days from its July 26 reinstatement unless rescinded or extended by commissioner court.