By Elsa Maxey
It appears that so far the only public comment relating to the county’s new budget to be adopted in a matter of days has come from Kim Janke of Fairchild. Although a county agenda item addressed by Janke was not about the new budget but proposed pay hikes, the end result directly impacts the budget, which has been under development since the beginning of the year and is set for a couple of public hearings this month.
It’s important to note that Fort Bend County reports its budget reflects more revenue from property taxes than last year by $12,633,660, a 4.61 percent increase. New property taxes from this year amounted to $7,629,353. The county’s debt obligation is $654,220,000 among which $347,555,000 is Fort Bend County debt, $151,580,000 belongs to the Fort Bend County Toll Road, and $155,085,000 is from the Fort Bend Grand Parkway Toll Road.
As for the public comment, several weeks ago during a Fort Bend County Commissioners Court meeting, Janke politely told commissioners that the county was doing an excellent job and that he was not opposed to proposed pay raises for elected officials and judges…but. Janke said that the elected officials’ salaries could be scaled down a little bit. Essentially, he was asking for some of the funds intended to be used for the proposed raises to also go towards employee raises, “those people that work for the people of Fort Bend County as you do.” He referred to them as “the janitors that clean your office, people that are doing our mowing, the people that are working for the drainage, those people are just as worthy.” He cited calculations about how a percentage of 11 to 12 percent on $100,000 is much more than 11 to 12 percent on $40,000.
County Judge Bob Hebert responded to Janke’s comments noting that the proposed increase in the judges’ salaries is dictated by state statute. The 12 percent increase in judges salaries comes from this year’s, the 83rd Legislature’s, appropriation of over $17 million per fiscal year for judicial raises. The funds reportedly cover raises and increases in retirement benefits for Texas Supreme Court justices, Court of Criminal Appeals judges, district judges, county court-at-law judges. For example, that is what led Fort Bend County to authorize the increase in district judges’ state paid salary from $125,000 to $140,000. The county further allowed for a supplement it pays which may be increased to $18,000 a year, when its budget is adopted this month.
As for other county elected officials, Judge Hebert said that like the judges, they did not get a pay raise for the last seven years and he also cited calculations stating that the proposed raise over the last seven years was an annual increase of around 1.5 percent.
In the end, it looks like Fort Bend County elected officials may receive close to a 9.5 percent increase in salary with county commissioners’ pay going to $112,000 from $102,350 plus a $2,400 supplement, the county judge’s salary will increase to $117,600 from $107,470 plus other supplements amounting to almost $10,000, district judges and county court at law judges may receive an over 11 percent bump.
Starting next month, Fort Bend County will be operating under a new budget, the one for fiscal year 2014. But first, the proposed budget will need to be adopted by way of public hearings set for next week, September 9 and 10, when public comments are solicited in accordance with a published legal notice.
For a review of Fort Bend County’s posted 2014 fiscal year budget, see this story online, fortbendstar.com