County budget

Commissioners Kelly Snell (right) and Lester Gibson (left) talk at the start of a county budget meeting.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file

19th State District Judge Ralph Strother raised issue Thursday with how much county commissioners pay their administrative assistants, compared to what he is permitted to pay administrators in his court.

“I’m going to keep raising this issue for as long as I’m here, I promise you,” Strother said.

Strother said he has tried in past years to get his court administrators paid at the same level as county commissioners’ assistants. The disparity in pay between the two departments is not right, he said.

The two assistant administrators in Strother’s court make $40,368 each, which Strother is asking commissioners to increase to $45,333. His court administrator makes $46,015, which he is asking commissioners to increase to $56,702.

The administrative assistants for commissioners in precincts 1, 3 and 4 make $51,956 each. The Precinct 2 administrative assistant makes $56,702.

Ellen Watson, 19th District Court assistant administrator, said the aftermath of the deadly 2015 shootout at Twin Peaks has affected everyone’s job.

“It has thrown us for a loop,” Watson said. “It’s almost doubled our docket.”

Watson asked commissioners to take the salary requests into consideration with so many Twin Peaks-related trials on the horizon.

County commissioners are facing about $2.8 million in personnel requests, between salary adjustments for individual employees and requests new personnel. There are 55 requests for individual raises, including two department heads seeking raises for themselves.

The individual raise requests would be in addition to any cost-of-living raises the county gives.

Department heads and elected officials are also seeking funding for 17 new positions that would add more than $827,000 to the county’s spending.

Precinct 5 Justice of the Peace Fernando Villarreal requested $42,182.33 for a new clerk. Villarreal said work for his two clerks has steadily increased over the years as criminal cases and traffic tickets continue to increase.

The justices of the peace for Precinct 1 Place 1, Precinct 1 Place 2, and Precinct 3 each have three clerks.

Though Villarreal did not request it, Precinct 1 Commissioner Kelly Snell said he thinks Villarreal deserves a raise.

“He’s the only JP we have with a law degree,” Snell said.

Villarreal makes $54,931. Justices of the peace for Precinct 1 Place 1, Precinct 1 Place 2, and Precinct 3 each make $68,311, Snell said.

Budget discussions continue at 9 a.m. Friday in the Commissioners Courtroom on the first floor of the McLennan County Courthouse. Commissioners expect to finalize the 2018 budget by mid-August.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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