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County tax rate same for 2013; new JP salaries, staffs reduced

ROCKWALL – County Commissioners voted unanimously last week to keep the County tax rate for fiscal year 2013 the same as it has been for the past two years, at $0.3864.

They also agreed unanimously on a final balanced budget of $26.9 million ($26,937,955).

There was some strong dissension in the meeting, however.

By a 3-2 vote, Commissioners passed a resolution to reduce the annual salaries of the two new Justices of the Peace, Liana Bell Whitten and Mark Russo (above right), from $66,000 to $56,000. They were elected July 31 and are scheduled to be sworn in to begin their four-year terms January 1, 2013.

Current first term Justices of the Peace Nancy Beaty and Jack James each were elected in 2010, began their terms in 2011 and receive annual salaries of $66,000.

County Judge Jerry Hogan (above left) initially introduced a resolution to reduce the salaries of all four Justices since he said the addition of two more will reduce the workload of all four.

“The State mandated that we go to four JPs and four Constables, even though the workload for the County had not increased,” he wrote in an email to TheRockwallNews.com. “The four JP’s would be doing the work of the current two JP’s. If the work has fallen off significantly, then the JP’s should not be paid the same higher salary that was put in place when the County had but two JP’s. My original proposal, which the Commissioner’s Court would not approve, was to reduce the salaries of the current JP’s, as well, so all of the JP’s make the same reduced salaries.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Jerry Wimpee and Precinct 2′s Lorie Grinnan supported the measure. Precinct 3 and 4 Commissioner Dennis Bailey and David Magness strongly opposed the salary reductions.

“I am adamantly opposed to lowering salaries of incoming JPs,” said Bailey.

“The salaries were set after a significant salary survey and after a long, thought-out process,” said Magness.

Commissioners Wimpee and Grinnan said they initially supported less of a salary reduction but ended up voting with Hogan.

“The salaries were revised when there were just two JPs, considering their workload,” Grinnan said. “I think the attempt now is to bring at least some of the salaries in line with the current workload.”

Hogan also proposed that each Justice have two clerks during 2013, but Commissioners decided instead to leave Justices Beaty and James with their current three clerks each, and give Russo and Whitten just one clerk each.

Disappointed Russo told TheRockwallNews.com that he respects the Court’s decision but disagrees. He said he feels that there should be consistency across the board and he is concerned that the limited staffing will not allow him to be able to set up his office correctly from the beginning, which was one of his major campaign pledges to voters.

Whitten was also disappointed with the news.

“I disagree with the County Commissioners’ decision,” she said, “because of unequal treatment of newly-elected officials.”

By J.J. Smith

 

 

 

 

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