Brown County Commissioners fielded no comments from the public Wednesday during the first of two required public hearings on a proposal to increase total tax revenues in the coming year, but they did spend more than an hour discussing a pay proposal from the sheriff's office.
The plan would increase the pay of certified peace officers $100 a month, in addition to an already scheduled 3 percent raise for all county employees, but representatives of the sheriff's office said the needed funds would come from cuts in other areas of its appropriation. No additional funds beyond those already included in the county's proposed $14.9 million 2011-2012 budget would be required.
All four commissioners ultimately expressed their consent to include the plan in the budget, but not before voicing concerns that other departments would like to have the same opportunity to increase employee compensation in the same manner. However, sheriff's office officials said the difference in starting pay compared to that of Brownwood, Early and Bangs police departments makes recruiting and retaining qualified officers difficult.
"This is not a negative on any other department," said, Precinct 3 Commissioner Richard Gist, who first mentioned the reaction the plan might have with other employees during the discussion. "It's important to realize that every position is important. We're trying to be fair on salaries, but sometimes it's tough."
Commissioners did not have formal approval of budget items on their agenda, but a consensus of what would be done on the sheriff's request was needed because public notice of any increase in the pay of an elected official - like the sheriff - must be issued 21 days before final adoption, County Judge Ray West said. That deadline also apparently left no time for other departments to rework budget requests to consider similar proposals.
West said it wasn't a matter of "if" other employees would react.
"There will be some gnashing of teeth," he said.
County Treasurer Ann Krpoun said she would like to look at not buying so much "paper and pens" in order to grant raises, but several others said they didn't believe they could cut enough to provide for that and to be assured that they would be able to sustain the pay raises out of operations appropriations in years to come County Clerk Sharon Ferguson, for example, said a higher paid employee has left the office, so one year could be funded, but without additional money that would not be possible in future years.
"Raising salaries is a forever thing," County Auditor Nina Cox said.
Sheriff's officials said the county's starting pay for deputies is in the $31,000 a year range, while the City of Brownwood's pay for a starting police officer will be in the $40,000 range after the new budget is in effect. Early pays a little less than Brownwood, but they are to receive a 6 percent raise, sheriff's officials said, although exact numbers were not immediately available.
"What offsets the county's pay somewhat is our benefits," Capt. Tony Aaron said. "It's a really good plan. We really push that in recruiting. But for an applicant who's young and single, that's not that big of a deal. They look at the money. We hope this $100 a month can be used to narrow that gap."
The hearing Wednesday morning was called to receive public input on the proposal the increase revenue from property taxes by 2.17 percent. Tax revenues were $10,536,712 in the 2010-2011 fiscal year, and will increase to $10,732,191 in the coming year excluding new properties. When new properties on the tax roll are added, the revenue in the coming year will be $10,871,549.
The proposed budget, which West said will be adopted during the final week of September before the fiscal year begins Oct. 1, provides for a 7 percent increase in hospitalization insurance coverage for employees in addition to the 3 percent across the board raise for full-time workers; and $12,000 for various computer replacements. The sheriff's department is also budgeted for three new patrol vehicles and outfitting, costing $102,400, and additional radios, cameras, radar units and installation costing $18,000, county documents showed.