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Travis County commissioners give themselves pay raise

Thursday, August 1, 2019 by Jack Craver

The Travis County Commissioners Court moved to significantly increase salaries for itself and other top elected officials over the vociferous objections of one of its members.

On Tuesday, the court voted 4-1 to approve setting aside money in the upcoming budget that will allow pay to rise for commissioners by more than $16,000 – from $119,508 to $135,662. If approved, the budget will boost Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt’s pay from $140,945 to $156,630.

Other elected officials in the county will also see their pay rise. Pay for sheriff will increase from $155,238 to $164,951. The county attorney’s salary will rise by more than $11,000 to $192,032.

The pay bumps are part of a three-year process to bring the pay of county elected officials in line with that of leaders in other large Texas counties.

While the court embarked on that three-year process last year, bumping pay for commissioners by roughly $13,000, county staff recommended this year to cut the process short and implement the entire pay raise this year. That appeared to be what the court was prepared to do, but on Tuesday the commissioners opted to stick with the original plan, and phase in the pay raises over the next two years.

Assuming the court approves the third installment of the pay raise next year, the commissioners’ pay will have gone from $106,000 to $151,817 in three years.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, the lone dissenter, railed against the increases, particularly for the commissioners, describing them as “arbitrary” and an “insult” to the county’s thousands of rank-and-file employees, few of whom will be receiving significant pay raises in the coming years.

The county is bracing for lean times due to revenue limits signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in May that will reduce the maximum increase in property tax revenue the county can collect each year from 8 percent to 3.5 percent. In light of the state-imposed austerity that may result in cuts to basic services, Daugherty said the court could not justify a $32,000 salary raise for commissioners.

“I just think that it’s embarrassing for us to do this,” he said.

Although the court was required to hold a public hearing on the matter, nobody showed up to testify, Daugherty noted, suggesting that county employees and others may be hesitant to speak out against pay raises for powerful elected officials.

“People are scared out of their gourd to come down here and say something about this,” Daugherty said.

Tracey Calloway, who heads the county’s human resources department, explained that the proposed raises aim to bring the pay of elected officials in Travis County “to market.” Her staff determined market compensation by looking at what elected officials make in other large Texas counties.

Commissioner Brigid Shea argued that if pay for elected officials was too low, public office would only be attractive to the wealthy.

“I don’t think democracy is well served when only the wealthy can serve as representatives,” she said. “I just don’t think you get the full perspective from the community. And I know that some of the pay levels have made it difficult for people who would have made very good public servants.”

Commissioner Margaret Gómez suggested the pay increases were well-earned.

“I’m not an 8-to-5 person. I pay a lot of attention to my job,” she said.

While Commissioner Jeff Travillion did not address the commissioners’ pay increase, he did emphasize the importance of fairly compensating the county workforce. The court earlier this year approved pay increases for rank-and-file county employees based on a similar market analysis performed by the HR department.

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