County raises pass on 3-2 split vote

CAMERON—Two-percent raises for Milam County employees and elected officials were approved Monday in commissioners court.

The vote was 3-2 with Commissioners Jeff Muegge, John Fisher and Donald Shuffield voting in favor and County Judge Dave Barkemeyer joining Commissioner Opey Watkins in voting against.

The vote stemmed from a September decision by the court to grant the two percent raises conditional upon the Milam Appraisal District emerging victorious in the valuation lawsuit filed by Luminant over 2015 and 2016 valuations at Sandow Power Plant Units 4 and 5.

In separate action, commissioners approved a one-time pay adjustment for sheriff’s department and jail employees, after Sheriff David Greene said that would not involve any change in his existing budget.

OPINION—The split vote came after the court asked for, and received, an opinion on the legality of granting the raises, in light of its earlier actions and statements, prepared by Carah-Beth Bass of the Austin law firm Allison, Bass and Magee.

It had been requested by Commissioner Muegge.

The opinion concluded commissioner court had the discretion to determine whether to give raises to the county employees but was probably legally bound to pay elected officials the two-percent increases.

It noted the 2017 budget adopted Sept. 12 included the two-percent raise for county officials and employ- and noted “the budget posted on the Milam County website does not include any written language regarding the raises being conditional on any possible Luminant resolution.”

It goes on to note, however, that the original and amended notice published, as required, in newspapers included the following language:

“Two-percent increases are contingent on the Milam County (sic) Appraisal District’s valuation of the Luminant properties being upheld and taxes paid in full based on those values increases being implemented at the time taxes are collected.”

It goes on to note the legal differences between the way salaries are set for elected officials and county employees noting the county could even be exposed to legal liability if the increases were not granted to the elected officials.

While the same legal parameters don’t apply to employees, the opinion concluded: “Although there are concerns that the minutes of the budget does not provide sufficient notice of the conditions precedent for the Milam County employees to receive two percent raises in the 2017- 18 fiscal year, the commissioners court has the discretion to determine whether these raise will be given.”

‘COMMITMENT’— Barkemeyer addressed the comments made in September.

“It was my understanding, and commitment made in all my public comments, that the increase would only be given if the dispute was settled in favor of the appraisal district’s valuation of Luminant’s property and subsequent tax payment based on that initial valuation included in the tax roll presented to the county at the time we conducted our budget planning,” he said.

“Therefore, I cannot go back on what my commitment was as chief budget officer of the county,” he said.

SO PERSONNEL— The legal opinion also addressed the earlier separate decision to give a onetime pay increase during 2017-18.

“Similar to the county employees, the amount of compensation to jailers and dispatchers is at the commissioners’ sole discretion...”

The vote to grant those increases, from the existing sheriff’s department budget, was a unanimous 5-0.

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