After discussing the issue at length during a workshop meeting two weeks ago, Kaufman County commissioners unanimously voted to shorten the county’s retiree rehire policy from six months to 90 days.
While retirees from county positions previously had to wait six calendar months before being considered for rehire in Kaufman County, those experiencing retirement regret will only have to wait half the time before applying to come back to work.
Despite this more liberal policy, however, the new policy does incorporate a number of safeguards to help protect the county from re-hiring employees attempting to capitalize on the pay day accompanied with a retirement package before simply returning to work three months later. Among those requirements are the statute that there can be no prior agreement for rehire upon the retirement, the requirement that every county department or office conduct an exit interview with each retiree or refer them to Human Resources to conduct the interview, and the requirement that HR must be contacted for a recommendation when rehiring any previously retired employee.
The policy was called into question during the April 3 meeting of the commissioners court when Precinct 3 constable Keith Stephens requested that the court consider shortening the time between an employees retirement and their eligibility for rehire to help him fill an empty position. Immediately upon the passage of the revised county policy, Stephens took the stand to ask the commissioners to approve Walter Dykes, who retired from the constable’s office on January 2, as a paid part-time environmental officer for precinct 3. The commissioners unanimously approved his request.
During the court meeting on April 10, the commissioners also discussed significantly raising the amount of money for leasing county voter equipment to municipalities for elections.
Kaufman County Tax Assessor Brenda Samples explained to the court that the county currently charges a mere $56 to lease each voting machine to a municipality per election, despite spending nearly $800,000 for new machines last year. Each voting machine cost the county $3,225 while the voting scanners, one of which is required at each location for every election, cost $5,750 each. Samples expressed concern that leasing this expensive equipment at such a low rate makes the county liable for potentially expensive repairs or replacements with little financial cushion.
“If someone borrows our equipment and somehow it comes back damaged, then we’re left with possibly a sizable amount to get our equipment back together,” Samples said. “Especially since we have new equipment, I am really concerned about that.”
The maximum chargeable amount for the leasing of voting equipment is 10 percent of their purchasing price. Samples’ proposal calls for increasing the $56 charge per machine (which is less than 2 percent of the machine’s cost) to $299.25 per machine per day, which is just over 9 percent of the machines’ cost. Additionally, Samples proposed that scanners be leased for $517.50 per location per day, which is also nine percent of those machines’ cost. However, under Samples proposal, those contracting the voting equipment and utilizing trained county operators to conduct elections would only be required to pay $32.25 per election and scanners could be used for $57.50 per machine per election, putting significant incentives on municipalities to contract voting services with Kaufman County rather than leasing the machines to operate themselves.
Precinct 4 commissioner Ken Cates expressed his support for this proposal.
“Given the cost of those machines, I think it is always in our best interest to be able to send our people with the machines if possible,” he said.
Despite Cates’ support, however, county judge Hal Richards proposed that Samples’ proposal be tabled for discussion and consideration at another time. Samples was agreeable to this and the court unanimously approved Richards’ motion.
The commissioners also approved the District Attorney’s office’s request to apply for the OAG Victim Coordinator and Liaison Grant to fund the majority of the salary of the county’s victim liaison/victim assistance coordinator position currently held by Shirley Bruner. The DA’s office has received the grant for the last four years (each cycle of the grant lasts for two) and assistant DA Rebecca Lundberg said they were “hopeful” that they would be approved for the $84,000 ($42,000 per year) grant for another cycle. If the grant is awarded, it would go into the general fund rather than the DA’s budget, which pays out Bruner’s salary regardless of whether the grant is approved.
In addition to the grant, the commissioners approved increasing the county’s misdemeanor prosecutor salary from $55,000 to $65,000 in order to keep up with current trends. Lundberg explained that the DA’s office lost an experienced attorney three weeks ago and are hoping that the raise in salary for the position will entice attorneys with one to five years of experience.
County auditor Karen McLeod proposed establishing a petty cash fund of $300 each for the 422nd, 86th, CCL and CCL number 2 courts in Kaufman County in order to help judges pay for various costs associated with jury trials such as buying coffee or doughnuts for jurors.
“I found out that some of the judges had been paying for this out of their pocket,” McLeod said. “To me, it’s providing a service to our constituents since that’s who are juries are.”
“I’m told that we have a lot of trouble getting people to come for jury duty,” Judge Richards added with a laugh. “Maybe if we make their experience a little better, they’ll be more willing to come.”
The commissioners approved of the proposal unanimously.
Lydia Spaun who works out of U.S. Representative Lance Gooden’s office also made an appearance at the meeting to present the military recruiting program that Gooden is emphasizing. The program is designed to encourage high school students to go into the military by providing a $500,000 scholarship to selected applicants to various military academies including West Point and the Merchant Marines Academy.
In order to be eligible for the program, applicants must be high school students, apply through Gooden’s office and live in congressional district five. A board of alumni selected by Gooden reviews the applications and chooses the applicants. In order to highlight the program, Gooden and several recruiters from participating military academies will be visiting Kaufman County on April 20.
The commissioners also reclassified a road and bridge crew position in precinct 3 to heavy equipment operator and increased the employees base salary from $33,920 to $37,920 at the behest of precinct 3 commissioner Terry Barber.
“We have an employee that has been wi9th us for three years and has done an excellent job of learning everything he can,” Barber said. “He can handle every piece of equipment that we have, so we want to reclassify that position from a regular crew member and make him a heavy equipment operator and give him more money to bring him up to what other operators are making.”
Finally, the commissioners approved a $2,000 membership contribution for the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority, accepted a proclamation proclaiming May Drug Court Month in Kaufman County, accepted the Kaufman County Transportation Report for March 2019, approved the purchase of one 2018 Ford F-150 pickup in the amount of $23,400 from Tri-County Ford for precinct 4, approved permission to solicit electrical services, HVAC services, plumbing services, general construction services, lawn maintenance, and pest control, approved the award of contract for waste hauling for the county-wide residential cleanup, approved the purchase of one Peterbilt 348 dump truck in the amount of $124,376.62 from Rush Truck Center, accepted the fire marshall’s monthly activity report, and approved line item transfers and claims for payment.