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Commissioners hear budget proposals in special session

By Chris Edwards

In a special session on Monday morning, Trinity County Commissioners heard presentations and requests from several department heads in preparation for the fiscal year 2018 budget.

The proposal that drew the most discussion was County Treasurer Bob Dockens', which called attention to a disparity between the salaries of certain elected officials and non-elected county personnel. Dockens proposed a raise in salary that he said would enact "some kind of equity" among salaries. He made it clear that he wasn't "taking shots at anyone's salary," but noted that "over time the disparity in salaries seems a little off-kilter to me."

Part of the existing disparity that Dockens noted is the lack of perks for certain officials (e.g. vehicle allowances and state supplemental funds) as well as limited personnel in his own office versus the average number of workers in other departments.

Dockens' proposal would raise the salaries of the four commissioners and himself at least $6k more than the highest-paid non-elected or non-appointed county personnel. He also proposed that County Auditor Bonnie Kennedy receive a raise of $7k, due to her duties. "All of this can be accomplished for $40,000 or less," Dockens said. He noted that the money is within the county's coffers for such raises, and said it was important to give certain elected officials compensation in line with what others are making.

Dockens said there are funds left in the current budget earmarked for merit raises as well as money in the reserve fund, both of which will roll over into the next budget cycle, and can be applied to the raises.

The proposal drew some questions from other officials who were present. Trinity County Tax Assessor-Collector Lindy Madden Warren asked Dockens why he only included certain officials in his proposal, and noted an apparent gender bias. Dockens replied that his ideas had nothing to do with gender or race; that he wanted to address what he saw as a disparity in the salaries, and was only speaking of his own office as well as the commissioners.

Kennedy made a presentation for her department before Dockens addressed the commissioners, and explained the changes in her departmental budget, as well as the duties of her assistants. She explained that although she had adjusted items within her budget, overall there would only be an increase of one dollar for the coming fiscal year. Kennedy also noted a coming public hearing scheduled for Thursday morning to hear feedback about her department's spending and other issues the public might want to address.

District Attorney Bennie Schiro and Sheriff Woody Wallace also made presentations to the court, and each asked for 5% salary increases for their respective personnel. Schiro said that if the court approves his request, he would be able to switch some of the state supplemental money his office receives to put into an ongoing project of imaging old records.

Sheriff Wallace noted that his department has been running smoothly throughout the year in regard to its budget, especially with the management of the jail.

He stressed that the commissioners should only award the raise to his department if the county is able to afford it. He said he wished to distribute the raise among his personnel in the form of merit raises.

Sheriff Wallace also addressed the commissioners on the topic of inmate housing costs and pending legislation that could affect local law enforcement. He urged the officials to talk to state and federal representatives on behalf of the county.

Commissioners and County Judge Doug Page also heard presentations from Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Danny Martin and Constable Tommy Park; Elections Administrator Priscilla Rasbeary, and Precinct 3 Constable Carl Casey. These officials asked for small increases to their respective departments, and Constable Park asked that all four constables receive an equal salary. Fairness and conservative spending was stressed by more than one official present. County Clerk Shasta Bergman asked all the commissioners to "be fair across the board for all offices" when making their decisions.

After hearing the scheduled presentations, the commissioners and Judge Page discussed the preliminary budget in its current form. Precinct 1 Commissioner Grover "Tiger" Worsham expressed concern over funding for the road and bridge department, and said that he wasn't in favor of adding to certain departments' budgets at the expense of the county's infrastructure. Commissioner Worsham also spoke on behalf of constituents in his precinct whose main concerns and needs include the state of the roads. He questioned the necessity of the environmental officer position, should budget cuts to departments need to be made. Precinct 2 Commissioner Rich Chamberlin told the court that the environmental officer position, currently held by Carl O. Dyer, is a necessary office in the county. He cited Dyer's professionalism and work ethic as benefits to the county. He also noted that Dyer, who also serves as Emergency Management Coordinator, receives no income for these tasks aside from grant funding.

Other Business
In other items addressed during its special session, the Commissioners' Court also:
•Approved the list of 2017-18 Election Judges for Trinity County.
•Approved the resolution regarding the 2017 tax roll.
•Heard a presentation from Tax Assessor-Collector Lindy Madden Warren regarding the effective and roll back tax calculations for the 2017 tax year.