Johnson County Judge Roger Harmon shared his opinions about county spending and a move that is pending in the Legislature to cut county employee retirement benefits during Monday's meeting of the commissioners court.
During the new business portion of the agenda, commissioners supported a recommendation by Johnson County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Mike Powell to transfer four radios from the sheriff's office to each of the four precinct constables.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Rick Bailey made a motion to transfer the radios. It was seconded by Precinct 2 Commissioner Kenny Howell.
The radios are two-way communication radios and cost between $1,200-$2,000 each, depending on purchasing discounts.
“That leaves us with 34 radios not assigned,” Powell said.
Harmon expressed concern that the county purchased so many radios that aren't being used but are being loaned to other agencies.
“That's what bothered me so much about buying that many radios and loaning them out,” Harmon said. “That's over $60,000 worth of extra radios we purchased.”
Harmon continued to speak about how the county's tax rate could be effected if it continues to pay items, such as radios, for cities and other non-county entities.
“We cannot support every city or state agency that does business with the county,” Harmon said. “Every city has a tax rate.
Alvarado has a tax rate, Godley has a tax rate and Venus has a tax rate. If we start doing that, and this is the direction we are trending toward and it bothers me, our own budget is in jeopardy. “We've only given our employees a raise once in the last three years. If we keep spending all this money supporting state agencies and cities, then we're not going to have enough money to run county government without a tax increase. If those entities want something, let them raise the taxes. It is not our responsibility to do that.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Don Beeson reminded Harmon that the court voted to purchase the radios and they were to be used at the jail.
“You have to remember these radios were purchased three years ago for the jail when the county managed the jail,” Beeson said. “Now it's a different situation.”
Harmon said he keeps an eye on what the Legislature is doing as regards passing along expense to the counties.
“I go to Austin every Legislative session,” Harmon said. “I go for the purpose of keeping the legislature from passing unfunded mandates down to the county. Overall, we've done a pretty good job in doing that.
“But here we are as a county just passing money along to other agencies we're not responsible for. Let's take safety. Certainly safety is a concern in the hearts of all of our residents for any law enforcement officer on the streets trying to protects us, but we have to come back to the basics of what county government is about, which is taking care of our people, Johnson County people.”
Tax abatements is another way to just keep passing out money and soon there won't be enough for employee raises, Harmon said.
“In my opinion, we have to be mindful of every dollar we spend,” Harmon said. “We have to be mindful of the responsibilities this commissioners court has to the people of this county. Every taxing entity has that responsibility and I certainly want to take care of our responsibility.”
The radios are a good long-term investment and should last 10 years, Powell said.
Commissioners voted unanimously to transfer the radios.
Discussion about proposed bill to reduce retirement benefits
Also in the new business portion of the agenda, commissioners discussed voting on a resolution “strongly opposing the passage of HB 958 which proposes to reduce the interest rate on all TCDRS funds.”
TCDRS is a not-for-profit organization, created by the Legislature that manages the retirement funds for 252 counties and other state agencies.
“I am the president of the (texas county judges) association and no one had the courtesy to notify my office that this bill would be filed,” Harmon said. “This has huge effects on the employees of this county and every county in the state. The calculations on this are that it will reduce the retirement benefits by 17 percent. That's tremendous.”
Stringer moved to table the item because Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, who introduced the bill, wants it to die, Stringer said.
Beeson seconded the motion.
“Just to say it's going to die is not enough,” Harmon said. “I think we should pass a resolution saying we do not support this bill. By this court not taking action on it just weakens the opposition.”
The legislature is a complicated political mess. Certain bills are introduced that you think are going to be passed and they aren't passed, and some you don't want passed are passed, Harmon said.
“When we see something that is going to effect our employees this much, we have to act on it,” Harmon said. “I appreciate Commissioner Stringer putting this on the agenda.”
Orr is not going to bring this up again, Stringer said.
“I've known Rep. Orr for years and he is an honorable man,” Stringer said. “When he tells me he is not going to bring this to a hearing, which effectively kills the bill, I take his word on that.”
“No disrespect to anyone, but the possibility is there that this might be introduced again and this bill could still get passed, Bailey said.
The item should be tabled out of professional courtesy to Orr, Beeson said.
Howell also spoke with Orr, he said.
“Wether we table this out of professional consideration or not, Rep. Orr assured me this bill was not going anywhere,” Howell said. “However, we need to stay on top of what is going on in Austin. Orr is swamped with phone calls and texts and is aware there are a huge number of people unhappy with this.”
“I think Rep. Orr is embarrassed about this because he has realized it's not very popular and I just see this as a professional courtesy and I make a motion to table it at this time,” Beeson said.
Stringer seconded the motion.
“No disrespect to you or Rep. Orr, but I think this should be voted on and not tabled,” Bailey said.
“I do, too,” Harmon said.
When Harmon called for the vote to table the item, it passed 3-2, with Beeson, Howell and Stringer voting yea and Bailey and Harmon voting nay.
Tax abatement for Delek Renewables
In other business, commissioners:
• Supported a recommendation by Johnson County Economic Development Commission executive director Diana Miller to grant a tax abatement to Delek Renewables, LLC, for moving into an existing facility in Cleburne.
The abatement is 40 percent for three years for the $3.9 million project.
The project will create 12 new jobs that could expand to 19, Miller said.
The plant converts feed stock and grease waste into biodiesel fuel, Miller said.
Beeson made the motion to grant the abatement. It was seconded by Stringer and supported unanimously.
• Appointed Johnson County Historical Commission president John Percifield of Alvarado to join Bailey and Cleburne manager Rick Holden to negotiate the proposed agreement for Cleburne to maintain and operate Market Square.
• After a lengthy executive session, commissioners reconvened in regular session and voted to dismiss Shannon Taylor as director of the indigent health care program.