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“IF WE DO NOT STOP IT NOW, IT’S GOING TO BE A CONTINUOUS THING”
Amid allegations of discrepancies, Frio County commissioners are continuing to iron out the details of 2022 salary grade schedule that would allow for an equitable pay plan for all appointed, elected and regular employees.
Frio County Auditor Crystal Marquez alleged there was miscommunication and mishandling of pertinent documents with Werling Associates, the company hired to conduct a compensation study for all county employees last year.
“We had to make a lot of clarifications,” the auditor told the court during a meeting on Friday, August 18. “We provided him with all the resumes because he was not given that last year because the person overseeing the project last year failed to give him that information.”
Records filed at the courthouse show a complaint was filed by newly elected Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Sandra Waldrum, after her proposed salary was cut by $11,000. The grievance prompted Marquez to revisit the proposed raise increases and decreases and cross-reference with Dr. Werling.
Marquez told the court that she opted to have the department heads, appointed and elected officials be regraded by Dr. Werling.
“I did grade all the elected officials,” the auditor said. “Elected officials are harder to grade than regular employees because regular employees have job descriptions. So trying to grade off the opinion of their own resume is really hard.”
According to Joseph Sindon, legal counsel for the court, elected officials that take office in January will receive the salary of their predecessor. However, during budget season, the newly elected official will be taken to the minimum salary of their respective position and be graded accordingly.
“Elected officials are treated differently than employees,” the attorney said. “With employees as soon as they come into an office we automatically reset their salary to the minimum of the grade, then we regrade based on experience to see if any additional monies are to be added onto that. However, elected officials are entitled to a grievance process. That grievance window is only five days after the proposed budget is received by the elected official. That is why salaries are not modified until budget season.”
Pct. 2 Commissioner Mario Martinez, who acknowledged his understanding that his salary would also decrease, noted that his independent research revealed Frio County is the only governmental entity in the area to decrease elected officials’ salaries during their term in office.
“I reached out to other counties and they have a set salary,” the commissioner said. “It does not matter how long you have been there, it all is the same. Commissioner [Danny] Cano and I came in at the same time so I do not see any difference between him and I, we should be the same. It is up to us to say if we are going to have a base salary or continue to be graded.”
Comm. Cano, who took office in January, supported Martinez’ argument and encouraged the court to set a base salary for all elected officials.
“I am for that base salary, across the board,” Cano said. “For all elected officials, because if we do not stop it now it is going to be a continuous thing year after year after year.”
According to the auditor, elected officials were not originally included in the salary survey and only added at the ‘last minute.’
The Werling study revealed several county employees were substantially underpaid, prompting the court to give fifty percent of their raise during this fiscal year and, contingent on the state of the 2023-24 cycle, employees would receive the remaining fifty percent.
“We explained to the employees they would get fifty percent last year and if the new court decided, and the budget was healthy enough, they would get the other fifty percent this year,” the auditor said.
Frio County Judge Rochelle Camacho told the court that in hindsight the study provided the county a good starting point, however, for the compensation plan to work it needed to be done correctly.
“The starting point is we have to fix the pay grade according to Dr. Werling,” the newly elected judge said. “His expert opinion was first create the pay grade. That leaves all of our hands out of it.”
Amid concerns of salary increases, Marquez reviewed the salary studies and learned that some elected officials who were graded last year and regraded this year, show a decrease in salary. However, according to the auditor, the court has chosen to honor the grades that were conducted last year.
Pct. 2 Comm. Martinez questioned the discrepancies in the change in salary grades.
“So what Crystal found out in going through this, it seems that the work that Werling did and the work that got to our budget, there were changes made,” Sindon said. “The only thing we can think of was there was only one person that was the go-between and no one was checking her work. And that person was the old human resource director. The problem is elected officials were already told what their salary was going to be, so they had these expectations, so we are going to honor those expectations.”
Camacho supported Sindon’s comment noting that former County Judge Arnulfo Luna was graded on 31 years as a county judge.
“We all know he was a county judge for eight years,” Camacho said. “There is a discrepancy right there.”
Pct. 3 Commissioner Raul Carrizales told the court that when he was regraded, his salary decreased by $2,000.
“Can I waive it and stay at the new one,” Carrizales questioned. “This is my point of view, if what was graded for me last year, if there was something wrong with it, if the numbers were wrong, obviously there was because there is a different number in front of me and I want to go with that.”
Sindon told the commissioner, Texas government code does allow any elected official to relinquish any or all of their salary.
Sandra Waldrum, who was elected to fulfill the vacated precinct two justice of the peace position formerly held by Jim Sindon, expressed her dissatisfaction over the court’s decision regarding her judicial salary decrease of nearly $11,000.
During her address to commissioners, Waldrum said she had over 162 hours in training, 47 years of experience in education and had conducted several court hearing.
“We work on holidays and weekends; we do not get gas or supplies that we need, that is built in our salaries,” the JP said. “I use my personal cellphone for everything. No matter what happens, I am going to work for the county, I am going to work for those people. No county has ever lowered the salary of a JP during their term. I feel like I am being discriminated against.”
“Your predecessor’s salary was based off his years of experience and the fact he was a county attorney,” the judge said. “And it would put you over [the salaries] of JP one and three and they have been here longer than you.”
According to the auditor, Dr. Werling said the court should consider revamping the pay scale for all elected officials.
“He said Judge Camacho should be at an 18, because human resource is at a 17 and take the auditor and attorney from 13 to 15,” Marquez said of the pay scale. “The JP’s are where they need to be. He also compared the constables to the deputies; constables and district clerks are at a pay grade 11.”
“One of the biggest recommendations is starting the pay grades from the bottom,” the judge said. “I want to give the exact same attention to pay grades nine and 10. When we establish it, the math will do it for itself.”
Marquez reviewed the proposed salaries which are subject to change contingent on the court’s decision to revamp the pay scale.
Commissioners are set to meet on Friday at 9 a.m.
MANUEL LETS PUT THIS IN A BOX – THIS STORY IS LONG
Justice of the Peace:
The minimum salary for a justice of the peace is $43,000.
Pct. 1 – $66,000
Pct. 2 – $44,000
Pct. 3 – $54,000
Pct. 4 – $56,000
The minimum salary for a commissioner is $46,000.
Pct. 1 – $50,000
Pct. 2 – $47,000
Pct. 3 – $52,000
Pct. 4 – $47,000
Elections Administrator Carlos Segura will see the biggest increase in salary from $49,000 to $62,000.
Frio County Clerk Aaron Ibarra
Minimum salary is $49,000, he was graded and is set to have a salary of $60,000.
Frio County Treasurer Pete Martinez.
The base salary is $49,000, according to the auditor; Martinez was not graded for his $60,000 salary he receives due to the previous court honoring his predecessor’s salary.
911 Emergency Coordinator Ray Kallio was graded to receive a salary of $61,000.
Frio County Tax Assessor and Collector Ana Alaniz did not receive a grade by Werling last year due to her staff receiving a raise after extra duties were placed on the office. This year Alaniz requested to be graded and her proposed salary is $70,000.
The minimum salary for a constable is $52,000.
Pct. 4 – Rene Lozano $78,000
Pct. 2 – Rudy Ortegon $66,000
Pct 3 – Daniel Zapata $58,000
Pct 1 – Joe Ramirez – $56,000
District Clerk: Min 52k, 70k, last year graded at 72k
58k, graded 80k, last year 81k
58k, last year not part of grade removed myself cause county judges gave me a 10k raise so I was at 76k, so this year being on the pay grade I rate 74k
Min 58k, graded at 59k judge luna was at 88k
Came in at 70k, min is 74k, graded at 74k, last year former HR graded at 98k