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Three elected officials decry paycuts
Frio County Judge Rochelle Camacho has denied three grievances filed by elected officials during heated debate over county employee salaries.
Records filed at the courthouse show that on Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Sandra Waldrum filed a grievance on August 8 after learning her salary would decrease by some $11,000. Two days later, Treasurer Pete Martinez filed one, citing his disappointment with the pay grade scale. Pct. 3 JP Susan Belding filed a similar grievance on September 18 after claims that her salary was decreased during the county’s final budget hearing.
The county judge denied all three claims.
According to Texas Local Government Code, an individual has five days after the posted budget to file a grievance.
Waldrum addressed commissioners on Aug. 18, expressing her dissatisfaction over the court’s decision regarding her salary decrease.
“No matter what happens, I am going to work for the county,” Waldrum said. “No county has ever lowered the salary of a JP during their term. I feel like I am being discriminated against.”
Belding addressed the court during a Sept. 26 meeting, citing a timeline of her grievance, attorney general opinions and the Texas Government Code statute.
“I filed my grievance on Sept. 18 at the county judge’s office,” the precinct judge said. “The reason was because of the decrease in my salary from the proposed budget on July 28 to the adopted budget on September 14.”
According to Attorney General Opinion, GA-0929, a commissioners’ court that removes county officers’ proposed salary increases from the budget at the final budget hearing without giving additional notice to county officers under subsection 152.013(c), Local Government Code, and without giving the elected officials a chance to seek redress from the salary grievance committee acts contrary to the requirements of Chapter 152. A district court’s supervisory jurisdiction could be invoked to seek a judicial determination as to whether a commissioners’ court acted beyond its jurisdiction or clearly abused its discretion in adopting the county budget.
“On September 19, I received a letter from the county judge denying my grievance,” Belding told the court, “which I feel is a violation of the government code.”
“I hear you mention several times to the elected officials, ‘are you here for the money or for the constituents’,” Belding said in her address to the county judge. “I am here for the constituents, but I am also asking for compensation for expenses that are out of my pocket. With inflation at nine percent or higher, times are hard for everyone.”
Belding noted that since taking office in November 2016 her salary has increased by $3,800, the next official who started working for the county at the same time has seen a salary increase of $12,000.
“Yet people coming in this year have increases by thousands of dollars,” Belding said. “Per TAC, elected officials are not supposed to be included in a pay grade scale, since we are elected officials. This is why counties have base salaries. The numbers changed before the public hearing and it was very unclear to elected officials and to the public. Such as the sheriff not getting overtime.”
Frio County Attorney Joseph Sindon told the court he spoke with the same TAC representative as the precinct judge and was told that most counties of the same size as Frio do not use salary grades because of the complexity of the process.
“They tend to shy away from doing things like this because they are complicated issues with lots of moving parts and usually it is the larger counties who attempt to tackle pay grade salaries,” the county attorney said.