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Jefferson County employees to get 3 percent raise

By David Ball

david.ball@panews.com

BEAUMONT — Some Jefferson County residents were curious if the timing was right to give county employees and elected officials a 3 percent increase following the flooding from Hurricane Harvey.

The Jefferson County Commissioners Court held its regular meeting on Monday afternoon at the courthouse in Beaumont. In addition to approving a tax rate, a public hearing was held on the adoption of the 2017-2018 budget. Two residents spoke against the pay increase while one resident supported it.

Mike Getz said during this tumultuous time following the hurricane commisisoners should reserve the money rather than give a 3 percent increase for county elected officials.

“This is not the time and place for an increase. Maybe we can come back to this next year,” Getz said.

Nathan Cross echoed those sentiments. He said now is not the time for the increase. He added that elected officials were doing OK and there’s no need for an increase for elected officials.

Cory Crenshaw said the county judge and the commissioners knew what the salary would be for the job. However, the cost of living is going up and elected officials have done an incredible job by coming together and serving, particularly during Harvey. He said a 3 percent increase is a modest boost.

“They deserve it,” Crenshaw said.

County Judge Jeff Branick said the commissioners court is a fulltime job that pays less than an operator at the Valero Refinery with a high school education.

“There’s a lot of overtime here and they’re underpaid,” he said. “The last time they got a raise the CPI (Consumer Price Index) was 2.3 percent. We have not increased our tax rate.

“There’s a decrease in our property tax (as more residents move out of the county), but we’ll have an increase in our sales tax (for Hurricane Harvey recovery) to cover the property tax loss. Most of the complaints you hear are ‘my property taxes have increased,’ but it’s not because of the county, or the drainage districts, or the navigation districts, it because the state is not paying for its constitutionally mandated education costs.”

Michael “Shane” Sinegal, Precinct 3 commissioner, said he did not run for the position because of the salary. He added it’s a hard, 24-hours-a-day job.

Brent Weaver, Precinct 2 commissioner, said there will be cost of living adjustments across the board.

“It’s been some time,” Weaver said. “We’ve held the line on taxes. We’ve been very responsible. Our employees have done a fantastic job. They deserve a cost of living adjustment.”

Branick said this year’s budget has more revenue because there’s an increase in collections from industries. He added that there has been a “tremendous” increase in health care costs.

Weaver gave an account of an employee who risked his own life to save someone during the floods on Hillebrandt Bayou.

“We are well served. We have great employees who are doing a great job,” he said.

The budget that was adopted is expected to raise more revenue from property taxes than last year’s budget by an amount of $495,751, which is a .58 percent increase from last year’s budget. The projected property tax revenue to be raised from new property added to the tax roll this year is $1,037,563.

The 2017-2018 property tax rate is $.364977, the effective tax rate is $.364977, the effective maintenance and operations tax rate is $.340556, the rollback tax rate is $.395801 and the debt rate is $.019681.

In other county business, the Jefferson County Sub-Courthouse will replace the Port Arthur Public Library as a polling place for the Nov. 7 General Election while the library is undergoing repairs. There will now be 36 voting locations rather than 40.

The commissioners approved adding more trucks for debris removal so debris piles won’t be a health hazard. Debris will only be picked up public right of ways.

The company DRC Emergency Services is tasked with debris removal and commissioners voted to pay them $5 extra per yard. Houston offered DRC more money, so the company began pulling trucks away from Jefferson County. Therefore, the commissioners increased payments to keep them here.

Residents aren’t being charged for the additional costs; the payment will come from FEMA reimbursements.

The commissioners also approved Sheriff Zena Stephens’ travel to the 47th Annual Legislative Conference on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Inc. Wednesday through Sunday in Washington, D.C.

Stephens will speak at the event and “The sheriff’s attendance to this conference will be beneficial and have a lasting and positive effect on her service to the citizens of Jefferson County,” the agenda item read.