Budget workshops continued for the Lamar County Commissioners’ Court on Wednesday, with county officials hearing from several offices, including the district judges, the elections office, the maintenance department and the Lamar County Veteran Services Office.
Lamar County Elections Office
The size of the budget for the elections office fluctuates based on what elections will take place, and as Elections Supervisor Tricia Johnson told the commissioners, 2020 will be a big year.
Johnson said odd-numbered years are always cheaper than even-numbered years, with presidential election years proving even more costly for the department.
Johnson requested new voting equipment, saying the current voting machines the county uses are old and outdated. She said some older ones would give out this year if not replaced.
“It’s been great, but it’s 13 years old,” she said. “They purchased this in 2006 and what I’ve also said is, even in 2006, we didn’t pay for it. We got it through the HAV Grant, Help America Vote Act.”
Johnson requested $40,000 for office supplies, equal to how much the elections office received in Fiscal Year 2018-19. There is $34,760 requested for contract services, including website maintenance, Votec and other contracts.
Johnson asked for $81,947 in salaries, a slight increase from the $79,560 allocated for salaries in the prior year.
Lamar County Maintenance Director Kerry Washington made several suggestions to the Commissioners’ Court on ways the county could improve efficiency at the Lamar County Jail, and commissioners appeared open to the discussion Wednesday.
Washington requested two new maintenance employees, one of whom would work full-time at the jail. He cited numerous times he has been called out to the jail to fix issues that weren’t significant.
“I get a lot of ‘the toilet doesn’t flush,’ and I go down there, and (I use) a plunger and it works,” Washington said. “I say, ‘Why you didn’t get an inmate to use a plunger,’ and (they say), ‘We tried, it didn’t work.’”
By having a dedicated maintenance employee at the jail, it would free up Washington to handle other duties that have fallen to the wayside as maintenance requests at the jail have increased, he said.
As Commissioner Lawrence Malone pointed out, Washington is responsible for maintenance and upkeep at five county facilities.
“I’ll be able to manage what I’m doing right here,” Washington said. “If someone can take the pressure off me down there, then I can… make sure everything I need to be doing is done.”
Washington also suggested the county allocate the Lamar County Sheriff’s Office its own maintenance budget, so Sheriff Scott Cass can perform maintenance he feels is necessary without going through the maintenance department.
Though not represented in the budget request, Washington also noted Precinct 4 Constable Rick Easterwood is asking for a new truck, and Washington asked that the constable’s old truck be moved to his department.
Due to the requested new positions, the requested FY 2019-20 salary allotment is approximately $31,000 higher than what was allocated in the current fiscal year, set at $199,000, up from the $138,385 budgeted in this fiscal year.
After receiving $20,000 for part-time help in the current fiscal year, Washington didn’t list any part-time help request in the proposed budget.
Retirement is set at $30,000, FICA payments are listed at $18,000 and group insurance is $60,000.
Many line items are unchanged, including janitorial supplies, with a proposal of $35,000, and contract services set at $70,000.
The two largest line items are electricity, with a proposed allocation of $265,000 and building repairs, with a requested $130,000/
In total, the maintenance department’s FY 2019-20 budget request comes in at $998,430, a reduction from the $1,042,242.96 budgeted for the department in FY 2018-19, despite the request of new employees.
Sixth District Judge Wes Tidwell and 62nd District Court Judge Will Biard made their case to the Lamar County Commissioners’ Court that they should receive a salary supplement, which they said most district court judges in Texas make.
“Lamar County does not follow the statewide trend,” Tidwell said. “There are 322 district court judges that receive the full salary supplement (of $18,000)... There are over 100 district judges in the state of Texas that receive supplements ranging from $10,000 and $17,999.
“There are nine courts in the state that receive no supplement, and the Sixth District Court is one of them… This county has never supplemented the 62nd or the Sixth.”
Tidwell said he could earn more in the private sector, and said he took a pay cut to come to the Sixth District Court.
“When we talk about judicial pay, we kind of get away sometimes from the pay issue, because it is a calling,” he said.
Tidwell said he was worried about the future of the court if Lamar County doesn’t begin supplementing its district court judges, as it will become harder and harder for the county to attract good judges.
“You’ve got to be able to attract somebody who’s worth their weight to get up there and not let our courthouse or our court fall into disrepair,” Tidwell said.
Aside from the request for a supplement, Tidwell also requested a rollover on unused funds from the current year’s budget for security funds, saying they will be able to put it to good use.
He also referenced standard office costs, such as a request for a new carpet in his office.
Biard echoed Tidwell’s request for a salary supplement, and also requested an administrative assistant be added to his staff. The judge told the commissioners that while in court, he doesn’t have anyone in his office to answer the phone or handle other duties.
Tidwell’s budget request for the Sixth District Court totaled $217,732, up from the $197,609 alloted to the court this fiscal year. Of that, $124,477 is for salaries and $30,000 is for court reporter fees.Twenty thousand dollars is listed for group insurance and $14,320 is set aside for retirement. Tidwell also requested $7,400 for office supplies, up from the $1,000 set aside for office supplies this year.
The total amount requested for the 62nd District Court was listed at $199,907, up from the $186,145 budgeted for the district court in FY 2018-19. Of the total request, $125,078 is for salaries, $10,000 is for court reporter fees and $3,000 is for office supplies. Twenty thousand is for group insurance, $14,747 is for retirement and $8,932 is listed for FICA payments.
Lamar County Veteran Services Office
Lamar County Veteran Services Office executive director Melissa Horsey’s budget request was very similar to what was allocated for the office in the current fiscal year, with only slight modifications.
Horsey requested $124,545, a slight decrease from the $125,417 budgeted for the department in the current fiscal year.
There was some confusion during the presentation, however, when Horsey insisted she was not asking for an increase in salaries, despite the proposed budget showing a requested increase of about $10,000. Ultimately, it turned out to merely be a clerical typo. Horsey requested $70,000 for salaries.
$9,360 is requested for part-time help, $6,150 is listed for FICA payments, $10,150 is proposed for retirement and $20,000 is listed for group insurance.
Commissioner Ronnie Bass asked if the state veteran’s liaison had started yet, and Horsey said they haven’t, though she said the new worker will help when they start.