2018-09-12 / Front Page

Commissioners are no-shows at public hearing

BY ALLEN ESSEX
Staff Writer


KAY HICKS AND WILLACY COUNTY JUDGE AURELIO “KETER” GUERRA discuss the county’s budget and tax rate Friday at a hearing on the county’s financial decisions. Hicks, who is also a Willacy County Navigation District commissioner, was the only county resident to attend the hearing. None of the four county commissioners were present. (Photo by Allen Essex) KAY HICKS AND WILLACY COUNTY JUDGE AURELIO “KETER” GUERRA discuss the county’s budget and tax rate Friday at a hearing on the county’s financial decisions. Hicks, who is also a Willacy County Navigation District commissioner, was the only county resident to attend the hearing. None of the four county commissioners were present. (Photo by Allen Essex) Willacy County commissioners have completed four public hearings on a $7,756,890 budget and a tax rate of 75.6-cent on each $100 in assessed property value.

Only County Judge Aurelio “Keter” Guerra, a deputy clerk, one citizen and one reporter attended Friday’s final hearing in the commissioners’ courtroom in the county administration building. No county commissioners were present. There will be no raises for county employees but they will continue the one time stipends of $60 for each year of employment.

There will be a final vote on the budget and tax rate before the new fiscal year begins Oct 1. Only two public hearings were required, but since the meeting notices had been posted on the window of the administration building, but were not advertised in the newspaper the first time due to an oversight, the hearings were advertised and two more hearings held last week, the judge said.

Although commissioners had hoped to give pay raises, after all costs were tabulated and county officials held numerous budget workshops, commissioners decided to repeat last year’s payment of a one-time stipend of $60 for each year of county employment. Those bonuses will be paid in December.

“There will be no salary increases this year, we cannot afford to fall too far behind,” Guerra said.

Unexpected expenses, such as hiring public defenders and paying other expenses related to capital murder cases, as well as a plan to increase the county’s payments for medical insurance coverage for employees, are reasons Willacy County is staying with the annual bonus instead of pay raises, Guerra said.

The county will pay an extra $127 for each employee to increase their medical insurance from the present level to the “buy-up” level, the county judge said. Employee positions that were reduced to part-time after cutbacks resulting from the February 2015 riot at the former “tent city” prison and its closure, are now being returned to full-time jobs, Guerra said.

The economic battering that caused layoffs or downgrades of positions resulting from the tent city prisoner riot is easing off but the county still needs to gradually return worker pay and benefits to the level commissioners hope to reach, he said.

The county sold the former tent city property to Management and Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah, which has reopened a building on the property to house illegal aliens but the number of jobs at the center will not reach the approximately

400 it had before the riot, he said. The tents were removed by MTC and the brick building on the site will eventually hold about 1,000 immigration detainees. The county and city of Raymondville will now be able to collect property taxes on the property and gain other income from the MTC operation there.

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