‘14 budget gets $350,000 relief from trial plea deal

Milam job cuts still needed, judge says

Last week’s surprise ending to the Brandon Cotton capital murder trial process will save Milam County taxpayers more than a third of a million dollars immediately in the 2014 budget, but the job cuts which are a part of that budget will still take place.

That’s the word from County Judge Dave Barkemeyer.

County officials had accounted for nearly a million dollars to cover the costs of the anticipated trial and $350,000 of that was in the 2014 budget which was okayed by commissioners earlier this year.

But Cotton accepted a lifewithout parole-or-appeals plea bargain offered by Prosecutor Bill Torrey on Nov. 13.

There won’t be a trial.

JOBS—“ Thankfully, the cost impact is much less severe than had been planned for,” Barkemeyer said. “And besides that, the uncertainty is behind us as well. Also, we are now a participant in the Regional Public Defender Program for capital cases that, in the future, offers us protection against such unexpected costs.”

But the budget’s cutting of four county jobs by the end of 2013 will proceed, he said.

Barkemeyer noted there was a drop of $480,000 in ad valorem tax revenue, mostly due to a reduction in value at Luminant’s Sandow power plants.

“We will still be faced with some depletion of the general fund reserves we’ve fought so hard to build up these past two years,” he said.

“ That means the workforce reduct ions that have been planned still need to be carried out by year end 2013,” he said.

Positions being cut are one each in the tax collector’s office, district clerk’s office, county clerk’s office and Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace office.

There was a three- cent tax increase, from 60 to 63 cents, in the county tax rate.

PAY HIKES—Barkemeyer said he hopes in the 2015 budget the tax rate can be returned to 60 cents and pay increases can be granted to county employees.

He said the commissioners court should consider pay increases as soon as it can reach a consensus the county can afford to implement them.

“I know it may seem unreasonable to do work force reductions and then proceed to give pay increases,” he said. “But we must be efficient and at the same time we must pay employees properly.”

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