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Travis County employees wonder whether they will get a raise

Monday, August 11, 2014 by Beth Cortez-Neavel

Travis County Commissioners will spend their week discussing funding requests that the Planning and Budget Office did not include in its estimated $901 million Fiscal Year 2015 preliminary budget. Out of 16 total budget hearings, the majority will focus on funding to hire new staff. The Court will also hear from the Travis Central Appraisal District, which is requesting an additional $3.2 million from the county.

They will also have to consider whether to give employees a raise.

Human Resources Director Debbie Maynor has told commissioners in a memo that employees across the board are concerned their pay is too low.

At a recent employee forum there was “overwhelming feedback” to ask the Commissioners to consider and prioritize an increase in employee compensation, Maynor said, “especially given the affordability discussions that have been occurring community wide.”

Budget Office Director Jessica Rio said the budget office did not anticipate any money would be available to fund an increase in county employee pay, but if the commissioners so wish, some of the county’s $4.3 million reserve could go toward the increased employee pay.

Human Resources is asking to raise almost all classified employees’ compensation a flat dollar amount for FY 2015. Employees hired before April 1, 2014, — with the exception of elected and appointed officials, temporary employees, state funded employees, grant funded employees, employees that earn more than $100,000 annually and “redline” employees — could get either a $750 annual increase or a $1,000 increase.

If Commissioners decide to give employees a $1,000 raise, not only will that exhaust the reserve fund, but the county would need to find $600,000 more.

Commissioners will hold hearings through the week, hearing from several different departments on their needs.

The FY 2015 preliminary budget increased about 5 percent from $857,104,363 in FY 2014 to $901,728,301. The Travis Central Appraisal District estimates $532 million will come in to the county for next year’s budget from property taxes.

This year, because the city and county were deliberating on whether or not to file commercial property valuation protests, the appraisal district had to postpone its certification of appraised values, usually available in July, to mid-August.

“We have a little added uncertainty this year,” Budget Director Jessica Rio said. Rio said the budget office set aside $4.3 million to provide a buffer in case the certified tax roll is different from expected. By the time the budget is approved on Sept. 23, and pending any change to the tax roll, Rio said the reserve could be allocated out to different departments or toward a requested increase in employee compensation, but that decision is ultimately up to the Commissioners.

Rio said due to the county’s surge in population demand for services has increased throughout the county and employee resources are stressed with growing workloads. But, she said, the budget office did not find the resources to fund many of the positions and isn’t recommending funding for more full-time employees.

“We’re telling people ‘No, you need to redirect your own internal resources, you need to make it work,’” she said. “It’s a responsible budget. But that doesn’t mean that other departments don’t have good things that they need and feel very strongly about.”
Depending on Commissioner’s approval, funding for different departments’ full-time employees could affect whether or not county employees across the board receive a raise in pay next fiscal year.

Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler is requesting a $17.1 million budget for the appraisal district next year, a $2.9 million budget increase from last year. The county would contribute $3.2 million overall for their share of the budget. The preliminary budget already included an additional $72,503 to pay for TCAD valuation services, but this newer request would add $417,087 on top of that.

The Tax Office is requesting $1.6 million to fund year two of a mufti-year office reorganization plan requested by the auditor’s office. The plan calls for 20 new full-time employees and a classification of current employees.

Transportation and Natural Resources is requesting more than $6.9 million to help fund ongoing buyouts from the October 2013 floods.

The Medical Examiner’s Office is requesting $243,847 to hire one deputy medical examiner, but the budget office does not want to recommend funding this position until a new Chief Medical Examiner is hired. The current ME is retiring.

Health and Human Services and Veterans Services is requesting $241,299 to fund four full-time eligibility caseworkers and office support specialists and $72,921 to fund one burial caseworker.

Emergency Medical Services is requesting $309,032 to fund a STAR Flight dispatch services/air communication specialist. The budget office recommended this position be discussed with the court on how to phase the position in over time.

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