The Blanco County Commissioners Court held a Budget Hearing Workshop meeting on Tuesday, July 8th, 2014, at 10:00 a.m. The meeting was held in the Commissioners Courtroom of the Blanco County Courthouse, Johnson City, Blanco County, Texas. The Workshop meeting was held pursuant to Chapter 551 of the Texas Government Code (the Texas Open Meetings Act). All four County Commissioners and Blanco County Judge Bill Guthrie attended the meeting. The line items referenced in this article represent a fluid discussion, or a “work in progress.” These and other line items make up the 2014-2015 Blanco County Proposed Budget. There will be a filing period and a public hearing before the final Budget is adopted in the fall.
Judge Guthrie opened the meeting and asked the County Commissioners to refer to the work copies they had been given. Maggie Goodman and Allen Dean of the Johnson City Library spoke first. The library asked for an increase over last year’s funds. Dean told the Court, “we are increasing our technical facilities. This includes 25 new computers, Wi-Fi, and we partner with the Texas Workforce Commission. We also offer e-books, partnerships with the schools for math and science; we offer a safe place for students who need computer access, and reading programs. We are a vital and vibrant entity offering services to all parts of the community.”
Goodman also spoke to the Commissioners. She said the library wants to increase services and programs for the community, and many of these services are not available elsewhere. At the same time, some grants and endowments are shrinking. Goodman thanked the Commissioners for their consideration, and reminded them, “all these programs are necessary and important to the community.”
Judge Guthrie told the Commissioners that education funds for the County Judge’s office will need to be increased for next year. “A new Judge will take office in November and the training is in Lubbock. The computer I use in my office is my own personal laptop, and there is no computer for the new Judge.”
Judge Guthrie reported that the Blanco County Clerk’s office requested a modest increase for next year’s operating budget, mostly because of the telephone budget. The operating budget for Election Administration costs will be higher for next year because it is an election year.
Blanco County District Clerk Debby Elsbury requested a small operating increase for phones and data usage, saying, “our office is in a crunch situation, not a want.” Elsbury also asked for funding to add either another fulltime staff member, or increased funding for part time help. According to Elsbury, “about 50 reports are due to the State and other entities because of the increased number of criminal cases. A recent audit recommended increasing the number of people working in this office. With just two people, it just doesn’t work.” Elsbury is also concerned about the need to hire and train a new employee because it is likely that she and the other employee will retire in the not too distant future.
Judge Guthrie agreed that the State continues to increase the number of requirements and reports from offices. These requirements increase the number of reports. Elsbury added, “the legislature comes up with more reports, and it is very time consuming.” Judge Guthrie thanked Elsbury for her presentation.
Blanco County Attorney David Hall reported an increase in the cost of supplies and phones, books, and resources. He said that yet another requirement by the State will be e-filing, and this will be difficult to implement. Hall added that the special prosecutor fund is needed, and requested that these funds be kept in the budget. “We are seeing more cases, autopsies, etc.”
Debby Elsbury also commented on the upcoming requirements for e-filing. Elsbury told the Court, “we do not have an IT person. There will be increased costs to handle this [forthcoming e-filing requirements by the State].” Blanco County Commissioner James Sultemeier asked if money should be allocated now to assist with upgrades to handle the costs of e-filing. Elsbury replied that because e-filing is not required until 2016, any computer updates today would be obsolete by then. Judge Guthrie agreed, “the new requirements will create a snowball effect, and these increased costs by 2016 should be expected.”
Judge Guthrie reported that the Blanco County Tax Assessor/Collector foresees no increase in operating costs for next year. Blanco County Sheriff Bob Morgan said, “all is good but employee salaries. I would like to request a five percent increase across the board. We need to increase these salaries. Training is expensive, and our salaries are below several other counties.” The proposed budget for the Sheriff’s Department included modest increases for education and uniforms, and decreases for automotive expense and medical expense for inmates. Sheriff Morgan added that a new deputy position has been added to the new budget. Judge Guthrie told Morgan, “we will take note of these items but it’s all discussion right now. Thank you for your presentation.”
The Blanco County Treasurer’s office requested an increase for supplies and computer operations for next year. According to Judge Guthrie, “the County Auditor’s budget is set by the District Judge. We see an increase in costs for computer operations and dues.” Indigent health care requested the same funding as last year, with no increase.
It was reported by Judge Guthrie that Emergency Management has seen a reduction in expenses, “in part because we no longer have a Motorola maintenance agreement.” The District Judge budget foresees a significant decrease in funding for next year. The District Attorney reported that much of his operating budget is contingent on grants. He added that his office is looking into a contract lawyer for the appellate court because there are so many more trials. “The need exists for a special prosecutor for sex abuse cases because this area has one of the highest rates for sex abuse; it is twice the State average.” Juvenile Probation asked for an increase in funds over last year, and these were mostly for salary increases.
Reports were given for Community Services groups, State agencies, non-departmental budgets, Justice of the Peace offices, Constables, County inspectors, and others. These groups asked for mostly modest increases because of increased operating costs.
Judge Guthrie told the Commissioners that the County has given substantial amounts to each County Precinct for paving projects during the past year; therefore he does not foresee how to give more money to the roads and bridges budgets for next year. Judge Guthrie reported that fund requests for independent auditors and Blanco County Appraisal District were lower for next year. “The lower funding requests are because the law library has increased online use and there is no need to maintain it. The Blanco County Appraisal District has informed us there will be an increase in tax revenue for next year, although we do not have the final figures yet.” The budget workshop also included discussion of County Revenues for next year.
Funding request for the Blanco County Recycle Center was higher for next year. Blanco County Commissioner Paul Granberg said, “the glass pulverizer has gotten some age and we are seeing more maintenance issues. As people utilize the center more there is also an increase in personnel to maintain it.”
As the discussion turned to salaries, Judge Guthrie told the assembly, “I would like to propose an across the board five percent increase for all [County] employees. We have held the line for the last few years and new properties with fairly large amounts of revenue are reported by the Appraisal District. We did really well on our last Audit, and we have these funds because of our employees and elected officials.”
Judge Guthrie added, “We can pay for the raise. I think we can fund this budget with a five percent salary increase.” He asked for comments, and Blanco County Commissioner Chris Liesmann replied, “we will look at it [proposed costs] and all the line items.” Judge Guthrie replied, “this is my proposal…we will get to the bottom line of the operating budget and can refigure salaries if needed.”
The question of health insurance for County employees was raised. Judge Guthrie replied, “we are very fortunate. We were told there would be a 10% increase and we just heard it is 3.5%.” Judge Guthrie asked for additional questions or comments, and there were none. The Workshop meeting ended with a motion to adjourn by Blanco County Commissioner John Wood. This motion was seconded by County Commissioner Granberg.