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Hays County Commissioners implement indefinite hiring freeze

Thursday, March 10, 2011 by Michael Kanin

The Hays County Commissioners Court has implemented an indefinite hiring freeze on pending county positions, also putting a halt to promotions and interdepartmental transfers. Employment offers made by March 8 will not be affected.

 

Court members did, however, leave room for Hays department heads to bring any vacancies back for their approval. That will remain as a standing item on the court’s weekly agenda.

 

Though the commissioners have asked some elected officials, such as the county sheriff, to comply with the new rule, their participation is not mandatory. The court, which unanimously passed the measure, did not vote on when it would end.

 

The hiring freeze went in to effect on Wednesday. At that time, there were 30 open positions that would be subject to the stoppage. If they all go unfilled, the court would save roughly $820,000. All of the affected jobs were included in the county’s fiscal year 2011 budget.

 

“It’s hard times out there,” Pct. 2 Commissioner Mark Jones told In Fact Daily. “We just want to make sure that we’re using those budgets wisely.”

 

The issue was brought to the court by County Judge Bert Cobb. “While our budgets and positions are set for each year in the fall, we as a Court want to take this opportunity to prioritize our costs and our departmental needs for the upcoming budget year. Although Hays County has fared better than some others due to our general conservative approach to finances, we’re aware that the overall economic situation has improved only minimally and we want to prepare ourselves for another tight budget year. By having these requests come before the Court we’ll have a better understanding of the county’s critical personnel needs.”

 

Jones, Cobb, and Pct. 4 Commissioner Ray Whisenant all took their seats after the last Hays court approved the county’s fiscal year 2011 budget.

 

Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley echoed the thoughts of his colleagues. He called their measure “a further check on being able to control our expenses.”

 

“Labor costs are the highest costs to any governmental jurisdiction,” he told In Fact Daily.

 

Conley added that he saw the freeze as a temporary effort that is designed to help preserve a positive balance for the county ledger as Hays officials move in to the fiscal year 2012 planning process. “We’re not quite sure what our valuation is going to be,” he said.

 

The commissioner also noted that he’d had a conversation with Hays County Sheriff Gary Cutler on Wednesday. “There was a little confusion (Tuesday) … he’s on board,” said Conley.

 

Cutler had told the court that he was concerned that the hiring freeze would unreasonably tie his hands on personnel moves. He did not return a call for comment.

 

Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe said that she wasn’t concerned that the freeze would create a loss of efficiency in county government. “With it being a standing item on our agenda every week, I believe it gives our department heads and elected officials time to determine when or what week they need to come before the court to justify the hiring of any position,” she told In Fact Daily via email.

 

Conley said that he would offer an item on the court’s March 22 agenda that would address six vacant sheriff’s department dispatch positions.

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