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Travis County OKs fiscal 2013 budget, but Eckhardt votes no

Thursday, September 27, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Travis County Commissioners approved a property tax increase and the county’s fiscal year 2013 budget on Tuesday despite Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt‘s unexpected no vote.


Eckhardt also voted no to increasing the county’s maintenance and operations portion of the county’s tax rate, as well as the increase in overall FY2013 tax rate that went with it.


Eckhardt told her colleagues that she believed the “burden of taxes” in the county was generally well balanced against the services that the jurisdiction provides to its citizens. But she argued – in a statement that was careful to invoke the value of the county’s law enforcement employees – that, this time around, commissioners “are paying more in salaries on our (peace officer) pay scale than we have to.”


However, her colleagues saw no reason to order changes to the county’s $814 million FY2013 budget. In the end, both it and a property tax increase of nearly 3 percent  – roughly $25 for the owner of a $215,000 home – were approved on a series of 4-1 votes.


Just before she voted for the overall tax increase, long-time Pct. 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez offered what could be interpreted as a rebuke to Eckhardt. Saying she had voted for the proposed tax rate each of the 18 years that she has served on the court, Gomez noted that she had promised her constituents she would look out for public safety issues in her precinct. Then, Gomez dropped the hammer. “There are some things in this budget that I probably won’t see in Precinct 4,” she continued, “but it doesn’t matter to me. I’m a member of the entire court. I am not a single member of this court, simply looking out for those things that are good for my precinct only.”


Eckhardt’s concern touched on a recent countywide salary reconfiguration. As part of a regularly scheduled salary tune-up, Travis sheriffs and corrections officers received a substantial pay increase. In the statement she delivered before the vote on the tax rate, Eckhardt noted that Travis County paid its officers “more than anyone else in the state before the pay raise, and we’re paying them even more than anyone else in the state after.”


The county also awarded a host of salary adjustments – mostly positive, though some negative – to civilian county employees after a market salary survey suggested that many were underpaid. On Tuesday, two county employees argued that they had been “left behind” when Travis officials implemented the results of that survey.


“My issue is several employees – about 22 percent of the employees, I understand – saw no movement in the market salary survey,” said Thelma Riley, an executive assistant for the county. “Nor did they receive any salary increase or any type of salary adjustment as a result of the market salary survey.”


Riley added that these employees also did not receive a cost of living increase. She asked the court to reconsider its position with regard to that group. In the end, however, commissioners declined to make any further adjustments to the budget.


There was also another call from a representative of the Clean Air Force for Commissioners to increase the $10,000 figure allotted to the organization in the 2013 budget to $20,000. County officials have offered the organization that amount in the past. There were no immediate takers this time around.


All told, county property taxes will increase from about 48 cents cents per $100 of property valuation to 50.1 cents. That sum will go to support a budget that is up from roughly $757 million for all funds in FY2012 to about $814 million in FY2013.

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