During a very long session of the Mason County Commissioners' Court on Monday, the group discussed the cost of law enforcement with Mason County Sheriff Buster Nixon. The session touched on many of the other budget concerns currently facing the county, and on the attempt by the county to keep their budget as tightly controlled as possible.
During the discussion on the upcoming budget, the Sheriff's portion of that budget received a great deal of scrutiny from the commissioners. They noted that one of his deputies has already received the equivalent of his annual salary (due to overtime) with five months still remaining in the fiscal year.
Sheriff Nixon assured the Court that he now had adequate staffing and that he had spoken with the deputy to make sure there would be no further overtime. He also asked about returning to the 207K plan, which the county had used for almost ten years before changing over a year ago to regular overtime. Under the 207K, up to 11 hours of overtime would essentially be included as regular pay by the county. Sheriff Nixon stated that he already had concerns about the lack of adequate pay for law enforcement personnel without asking them to "give up" 11 hours of unpaid time.
The Court and other elected officials questioned the Sheriff about cases being prosecuted based on the number of arrests being made by his office. This led into a discussion of the means for accurately tracking cases from arrests through final disposition, and a discussion of how all parties could better work together to make sure nothing is "falling through the cracks."
The discussion again came back to the budget, as Judge Jerry Bearden pointed out that Sheriff Nixon was going to be over budget for his employees. Commissioner Eldon Kothmann suggested that, with fuel costs lower than what had been projected at the beginning of the year, they move some of the fuel money into salaries to make sure that portion of the budget did not go into the "red." The Court agreed and voted to move $2000 from fuel into salaries.
Sheriff Nixon explained to the Court that he has cut out all overtime for his employees for the remainder of the year; but, also explained that this meant they did not have full coverage now at all times. He also talked about his letter in last week's newspaper, and clarified some issues that Judge Bearden felt had been unfairly discussed in that letter.
Judge Bearden asked, specifically, about equipment purchased for the Sheriff's office, and about the increased demands of the Sheriff's office. Sheriff Nixon, responding to a question from Judge Bearden on whether he had seen a large increase in crime since taking office responded that there had been. He also commented that there were the costs of transporting prisoners to other jails for housing since the Mason facility was full.
This was an ongoing concern for Sheriff Clint Low during his administration, and was one of the drains upon his budget as well. Sheriff Nixon had cleared out the backlog of inmates being held at outside facilities shortly after coming into office; but, it is again becoming a problem.
In other budget issues, Judge Bearden noted that the state requires the County to identify the 2010 tax rate as an increase, even though the rate itself did not increase. This is due to new language that requires any increase in revenue to be classified as a tax increase, and the proposed tax rate would generate more revenue than with the 2009 rate.
There will be two public hearings to discuss the proposed tax rate. September 14 at 8:30 a.m. and September 21 at 8:30 a.m. There will then be a public hearing to discuss the final proposed budget on September 28 at 8:30 a.m.
Several presentations were made to the court during their meeting. The first concerned discussions of how the county might work with the Texas Department of Agriculture to bring about construction of a nursing center in Mason. Richard Wagman explained how his company works with entities to manage facilities once they are constructed.
After discussing the various details of what would be involved, and how involved the county would end up being, it was decided to seek out further information about the TDA grant program, and to talk to more parties that might be able to work with the county.
The second presentation, on the agenda as "Prepaid Legal Services and Identity Theft Shield Presentation," was essentially a sales pitch for the company making the presentation. The group provides identity theft protection and prepaid legal services to employees of the county. In return, they provide training for county personnel on how to protect sensitive data. The employees pay for the service through a monthly payroll deduction, which will require a change in county policy since no payroll deductions for such items are currently allowed.
In other action, County Clerk Pam Beam talked about proposed changes for the precincts which might be brought about by the 2010 census. She explained that Precinct 3 is the only one of the four precincts that does not actually come all the way to the courthouse. She suggested that the county work with the Justice Department and the Census Bureau to see if they could reconfigure that precinct to reach the courthouse, thus allowing for consolidated elections, all held in once location, the courthouse.
The meeting, which began at 10:00 a.m., then recessed for lunch and resumed at 1:30 p.m., finally adjourned at 3:30.