Several items on the Nov. 12 agenda for Commissioners Court were related to salaries set during a public hearing in district court in October.
Karnes County Auditor Lajuana Kasprzyk reviewed the salary amounts which were set by district judges at $60,000 per year for the auditor, $37,128 for the first assistant auditor and $26,208 for the second assistant auditor.
The district judges set the auditor’s salary at $60,000, an amount higher than the $55,800 which was included in the budget approved by the court.
The auditor’s salary in the approved budget reflected an increase of $2,657 per year, which matched the five percent pay increase that was approved for most county employees and elected officials.
The $60,000 salary set by the district judges, if approved, would increase the auditor’s salary by $6,850 per year – a pay raise amounting to about 13 percent.
The judges set the salaries of the other two positions in the auditor’s office at the same amount listed in the budget reflecting a five percent increase in pay for both positions.
County Judge Barbara Shaw asked Kasprzyk how the pay increase for her position would qualify as an emergency or unforeseen?
“Because it was unforeseen, because the district judges had not had the public hearing at the time the budget was adopted,” Kasprzyk said.
Shaw said she emailed Jim Allison, general counsel for the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, and Allison said that the salary order is not timely and missed the statutory deadline.
“This has been done in the past,” Kasprzyk said. “When district judges set a salary, irregardless if it is Sept. 1 or April 1, the court has to abide by that setting.”
“They can’t make us do an ‘emergency’ or ‘unforeseen’ if it is not an emergency or unforeseen,” Shaw said.
“It is not an emergency, it is unforeseen because they had not set the salary at the time of adoption,” Kasprzyk said.
“Jim Allison says it is not, and that bothers me,” Shaw said. “He is our lead counsel.”
Commissioner James Rosales said he does not have a problem with approving the budget amendment.
Commissioner Tracey Schendel questioned whether or not approving the budget amendment would be legal.
“It is not an emergency, it is unforeseen,” Kasprzyk emphasized.
“It is not unforeseen,” Shaw said.
“It is, too, because they had not set the salaries,” Kasprzyk responded.
Shaw said she first asked County Attorney Herb Hancock if it qualified, and Hancock described it as “a stretch” and recommended seeking advice from Allison.
“They can’t order us to do something against statute,” Shaw said.
“It is unforeseen,” Kasprzyk said.
“Jim Allison said it is not,” Shaw said.
“Jim Allison doesn’t write the local government code,” Kasprzyk said.
Maurice Yarter, who was in the audience at the meeting, was recognized and allowed to speak on the topic.
Yarter said Commissioners Court has set precedent by approving about 65 emergency budget amendments that he claimed did not strictly meet the criteria required for such actions.
“To deny the salary raise, would go against the precedent already set by Commissioners Court,” Yarter said.
The county judge mentioned that the other two employees’ salaries were limited to a five percent increase.
“I included that (five percent increase) in there because that was ‘across the board’ what the county was doing for all officials,” Kasprzyk said. “The district judges have the authority to set the salaries of the county auditor and the assistant auditors but the only statutory qualification is that the assistant auditors (pay increase) can not be more than five percent without Commissioners Court approval.”
“Do you think that is fair to everybody else because they set it so high?” Commissioner Schendel said. “I know you are probably worth it.”
“I invite anybody to come deal with what I deal with and when there have been openings within my department, nobody internally has bothered to apply even though the salaries are higher,” Kasprzyk said.
The court turned to Herb Hancock for advice on the matter.
“I thought it was close,” Hancock said, regarding whether or not the item met the criteria required. “She (Shaw) called Jim Allison.”
Commissioner Rosales made a motion to approve the budget amendment.
Commissioner Shelby Dupnik seconded Rosales’ motion.
The motion failed with Rosales and Dupnik voting in favor while Shaw, Schendel and Commissioner Pete Jauer voted against.
“We will be back,” Kasprzyk said, and then asked the county attorney a question.
“Would that be considered contempt of court?” Kasprzyk asked, regarding the court’s action disapproving the budget amendment.
“Give me a little bit of time,” Hancock responded.