The Austin County Commissioners Court gave themselves and all elected officials in the county a 3% raise while at the same meeting voting to increase the property tax rate.
At Monday’s meeting Judge Tim Lapham and the four commissioners held a public hearing on the proposed budget for 2020-2021 at which only one person spoke to receive some clarification. They then went into discussions about the compensation order for county employees, salaries for elected officials, adopting the budget, and setting a proposed tax rate.
Lapham said the proposed 2020-2021 budget is $18,243,881, which is $149,345 below last year. The total tax rate, which will face a final vote on Sept. 28, was set at $.56964 per $100 of property valuation, up $.00541 over the current rate of $.56423.
“Last year’s property tax brought in $13,266,321, this year’s rate should bring in $13,268,994,” Lapham reported later on social media. That is an increase of $2,673.
He noted that the debt rate went from $.03033 to $.06004 because the county issued the voter-approved bonds for construction of the new justice center and a new EMS station in Sealy.
Commissioner Bobby Rinn, who is opposed to the raises for elected officials, voted against the raise and the budget. The other three commissioners, Mark Lamp, Chip Reed, and Randy Reichardt, voted for them.
“I don’t think it’s the right time,” Rinn said.
Reichardt chided Rinn for voting against the raise but still taking the money.
“If you’re going to vote against something you shouldn’t take the money,” he said.
Rinn responded that he declined the raise given last year but said his fellow commissioners raided it for other projects rather than leaving it in his precinct fund.
The commissioners spent a long time Monday making final tweaks to the compensation order. They were in agreement that what they can offer as minimum salary for some positions is way below what any qualified person would take.
“One of these days I’d like to be at a minimum $15 an hour rather than the $12 an hour we have now,” said County Auditor Billy Doherty.
Lamp said a 40-hour employee makes a minimum $13.13 an hour and proposed a 3% increase to $13.65. That was agreeable to the other commissioners. After making numerous changes, Lapham proposed the commissioners postpone voting on the compensation order until the next meeting to give him time to present a cleaned-up copy to them. That motion passed.