Kaufman County’s growing pains were evident as county commissioners began 2016 budget deliberations Tuesday and Wednesday, hearing requests from department heads.
Among those departments seeking additional help are the county clerk, fire marshal, public works, environmental enforcement, district clerk, emergency management and tax assessor-collector. There is also the possibility of additional employees if commissioners agree to set up a vehicle maintenance facility.
Commissioners are taking all the requests under advisement to see what they total, as well as where the county’s tax values come in, expected in July.
“These are plans, not decisions,” said County Judge Bruce Wood.
He said commissioners won’t be looking at possible salary increases until those values are known, as well as the cost to renew health insurance. Several department heads sought raises for staff members.
In seeking two additional positions, County Clerk Laura Hughes said the collections department has had only one clerk since 2013 and needs at least two. A person from the courts department has been filling in, but that person is needed for courts.
“We need all hands on deck to make sure we’re doing courts,” she said. “We don’t want to neglect collections.”
She said there has also been an increase in the number of records filed, back up to the pre-recession levels of 2008.
She also brought up the number of subdivisions being filed in the county – 12 in just the past few weeks – and the need to communicate with area cities when those developments are in their extraterritorial jurisdictions.
“They produce water shed issues which we’re not aware of,” Prec. 1 Commissioner Jimmy Joe Vrzalik said of the lack of communication.
The need for an additional inspector for public works has been brought on by the increase in new residences, said Randy Richards, who heads up that department in addition to serving as fire marshal. The department has had the same staffing level for 15 years, he said.
His department also needs a full-time clerk instead of a part-time clerk. That office handles inspections of onsite sewer systems for residences.
“We’re using the part-time person to the max and still having problems,” he said.
That department charges a fee for its services, which should help offset the cost of the additional inspector. Commissioners and Richards also discussed raising the $10 fee, which is the lowest among neighboring counties.
Growth is also fueling the need for more fire code inspections, which led Richards to request an additional deputy fire marshal. That department has been short staffed for the past 2-3 years, he said.
Richards also heads the environmental enforcement division and requested an additional officer. He said the number of complaints of illegal dumping, abandoned homes and other health and safety nuisances continues to grow.
Tax Assessor-Collector Tonya Ratcliff said the subcourthouse in Forney has two full-time and one part-time clerk, and that third position is needed full-time.
“It’s always busy,” she said. “It’s growing, and we expect more.”
Although she admitted she would be pressed to find space to put another employee, District Clerk Rhonda Hughey said her office needs someone to process passport applications. She said so far this year her office has processed 926 passports, which earned fees of $29,000.
In addition to those position requests, commissioners had a lengthy discussion with Bobby Bridges, facilities manager. That department has been in existence less than a year.
Bridges is setting up a computerized system for work orders and said a clerk is needed to manage that. A part-time clerk in road-and-bridge Precinct One has been handling those chores.
There is also a need for another building maintenance person.
“I think we need to keep up our buildings better,” said Judge Wood.
“We have tons of projects,” Bridges said.
While commissioners were meeting, maintenance personnel were removing birds that had infiltrated the ceiling on the second floor of the courthouse annex.
Among topics discussed were routine cleaning of offices and vehicle maintenance.
Hiring a janitorial service was considered, said purchasing agent Lisa Callahan, but determining what level of cleaning could be obtained was a challenge.
Setting up a maintenance facility at the south campus for all counties vehicles except the sheriff’s department was also discussed. That totals about 100 vehicles.
Bridges said the shop area would take some work to be serviceable.
Also requesting additional help was Emergency Management Coordinator Steve Howie.
“My plate’s full and the sideboards aren’t high enough,” Howie said.
He said he keeps pushing back projects, such as training for the emergency service districts.
“Everybody has more to do more than they can do,” Wood said. “There are a number of departments that have the same thing.”
Though the commissioners won’t consider salaries until they know how much tax revenue is anticipated, they did look at reinstating the longevity pay program.
It was discontinued five years ago when it was costing about $1 million a year. Employees under the program in 2011 have continued to receive longevity pay, which is three percent of salary each five years.
Wood said the program now costs about $500,000 a year, with retirements and employees leaving.
It would cost about $20,000 on top of that to reinstate it, he said. That would add about 30 employees to the program.