In their latest budget workshop, Lamar County commissioners gave themselves and other elected officials at least a $1,000 raise. The action comes as they face a $3 million budget shortfall, and as complaints of poor county road conditions continue.
In publishing the 2021-22 salary order for elected officials, commissioners raised the base pay for the county judge, commissioners, county and district clerks, tax assessor/collector, treasurer and full-time justices of the peace in Precincts 4 and 5 by $1,000 to $63,781. Part-time justices in Precincts 1, 2, 3 and 4 received a $1,000 increase to $24,879. In addition to base pay, officials, with the exception of the district judges and district attorney, receive longevity pay, travel allowance, or a county vehicle, cellphone allowance and certificate pay where applicable.
The order gives a larger 5% raise to the sheriff, bringing his base salary to $68,570 and to the five constables to $52,899. For the first time, commissioners gave a county stipend of $3,000 to both district judges and the district attorney. Their state salaries are in the $150,000 to $160,000 range, depending on time served. The court-at-law judge received a $1,000 increase to $86,500 from the county in addition to the $84,000 he receives from the state.
The trade off: Commissioners set a proposed tax rate at the highest allowable without a public vote and continued to whittle away at $18.292 million in budget requests for fiscal year 2021-22.
A base pay for county officials of $63,781 is nearly $20,000 more than the median household income for Lamar County. It comes at a time when county roads are in desparate need of repair — to the point the county sold $4.5 million in certificates of obligation to fund equipment and materials to fix what it can.
The raises also come at a time when most Lamar County residents are seeing massive property valuation increases as the Lamar County Appraisal District tries to get valuations in line with what the state says they should be. LCAD must do that in order for schools to keep their state funding — Paris ISD already experienced a $2.7 million shortfall after a two-year grace period on the difference between local and state valuations ran out.
It might be argued that county officials have earned the raises, but plenty of workers earn raises their businesses cannot afford to give them. The county, however, is not a business, and its ability to afford raises is limited to residents’ ability to afford taxes.
Commissioners are working on the county’s budget now. In addition to increasing the tax rate, there will be cuts to departmental requests in order to afford the raises. If you want a say in where your tax money goes, now’s the time to visit with your commissioner or with the court as a whole.