Friday, June 21, 2024

County approves pay raises for prosecutors ‘courted’ by other counties

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A special meeting of the Hood County Commissioners Court was called last week to discuss what is becoming an ongoing budgeting headache: Employees leaving because they can earn more working for other counties.

Such special meetings have resulted in higher pay for Sheriff’s Office employees and 911 dispatchers. This time, the pay raise request was for assistant district attorneys.

The district attorney’s office headed by Ryan Sinclair has five ADA positions. Two ADAs have quit and a third might follow, he said, having been offered an additional $25,000 to work for the Johnson County DA’s office.

If that person departs, that would leave Sinclair with just two assistants at a time when his office is serving two courtrooms due to a “cross-assignment“agreement.

That agreement allows 355th District Judge Bryan Bufkin and county Court-at-Law Judge Richard Hattox to hear its other’s cases. The arrangement helps move cases along faster, and it was noted by Sinclair and members of the court that the jail population has decreased in recent months, saving taxpayers money.

Voting on salary increases that run counter to the county budget is something that not all court members agree on.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Nannette Samuelson was strongly opposed to Sinclair’s request, which came at a time when the Commissioners Court is about to begin working out the details of the 2023-2024 fiscal year budget that will take effect Oct. 1.

However, County Judge Ron Massingill called the matter “an emergency situation” that was not Sinclair’s fault.

“We cannot sit here and let his department lose that many people,” he said.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Dave Eagle said he understood both viewpoints.

During the Wednesday, May 31, meeting, which lasted more than an hour, Sinclair stressed that the pay allotted for Hood County’s ADAs is considerably less than what prosecutors working for other counties earn.

The discussion included comments from Precinct 1 Commissioner Kevin Andrews and questions posed to Sinclair by Precinct 3 Commissioner Jack Wilson.

Almost 30 minutes into the meeting, Samuelson made a motion to table Sinclair’s request for “further conversation” about the “impact” of approving the pay raises.

Massingill stated that he was opposed to tabling it.

As the back-and-forth exchanges continued, Samuelson noted that Hood County offers one of the best, if not the best, in retirement and benefits.

She also stated that, where salary surveys are concerned, Hood County’s pay scale may be appropriate because it is significantly smaller than some other counties. She said that Johnson County is three times the size of Hood County and Parker County is twice Hood’s size.

“We have so many benefits here that other counties around us do not have,” she said.

Sinclair indicated that non-competitive pay nevertheless presents a retention problem.

Ultimately, Samuelson’s motion to table died for lack of a second.

Massingill then attempted to make his own motion but asked County Auditor Becky Kidd to assist with the proper verbiage.

The court approved pay increases, but not at the level Sinclair requested for the top two positions.

Here is a breakdown of what Sinclair asked for and what the Commissioners Court approved:

  • Assistant DA: current annual salary, $99,000; requested, $120,000 (a difference of $21,000); approved, $112,000.
  • Assistant DA (CPS cases): current annual salary, $98,000; requested, $115,000 (a difference of $17,000); approved, $110,000.
  • Assistant DA (trial): current annual salary, $85,000; requested, $103,000 (a difference of $18,000); approved, $103,000.
  • Assistant DA (intake): current annual salary, $78,000; requested, $103,000 (a difference of $25,000); approved, $103,000.
  • Assistant DA (trial): current annual salary, $78,000; requested, $90,000 (a difference of $12,000); approved, $90,000.

The vote to approve was 4-0, with Samuelson voting nay.

Some of the increased pay will be paid from $20,000 that is available in Sinclair’s budget, with the county likely needing to pay additional needed amounts from the contingency fund.

Kidd said that she will review the situation “in a couple of months” and will submit a budget amendment, if needed.

The increases took effect on Monday, June 5.