Liberty County commissioners, in a workshop held Monday, voted in favor of 5 percent raises for all county elected officials, including the commissioners and county judge. The vote was 2-1 in favor of the raise, which will actually not be official until public notices are posted in a print newspaper and until a formal vote is taken at a commissioners court meeting in September.
Voting in favor of the raises were Pct. 3 Commissioner David Whitmire and Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson. Voting against it was Pct. 1 Commissioner Bruce Karbowski. Pct. 2 Commissioner Greg Arthur was absent from the meeting as he was out of town attending a funeral.
Before the vote, County Judge Jay Knight provided a little background on the raises and explained how originally a 3 percent raise was being considered.
“When we set the elected officials’ salaries, we have the first version of the budget, and we were not sure what revenues would be. We were flying blind,” he said, adding that he and commissioners court also have to wait to see if the State Legislature, which was in session at the time of the first budget, approved new state laws that would impact Liberty County’s budget.
“At that time, we decided that everyone – across the board, and that means employees and elected officials – would get a 3 percent increase, a cost of living adjustment. That was approved for the elected officials back in June. Since then, we have had more information come in. We found that we are a little better off than we thought. If you don’t study the budget intently, then you don’t understand what all is involved. It’s not just salaries; it’s adding new people, new equipment for the sheriff’s office and everybody. We stretch the dollar until it reaches as best we can,” Knight said.
Upon reviewing revenues closer, it was determined that the County could afford to give elected officials a 5 percent increase, which will match what County employees also are expected to receive in the new budget.
Karbowski told Knight and Whitmire, who were gathered at the Hartel Building for the workshop, and Wilson, who was on Zoom, that he believes the 3 percent increase was more than fair and believes any extra money should be spent on law enforcement or passed on to the county hands.
Wilson told Karbowski that he could waive his 5 percent increase if he liked.
Knight said the County has been “playing catch-up” on the elected officials’ salaries.
“Last year there were significant raises given to some elected officials to get them to the average across the state,” said Knight, adding that he believes it is necessary for the salaries to be lucrative enough to attract other people to the public servant positions.
“We are just getting the salaries up to where it is in competition with the private sector,” he said.
The new 5 percent increase will make the salaries for commissioners $87,911, up $4,186 annually from the salaries in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget. Last year, commissioners also saw a big jump in their annual salaries, which were $74,880 in 2022. The County Judge’s annual salary was $94,751 in 2022 and $108,925 in 2023, and is proposed to be $114,371 for Fiscal Year 2024. The County Judge also receives stipends for Juvenile and probate courts. Commissioners and the county judge also receive annual auto allowances of $25,000.
Knight said that in some other Texas counties, commissioners’ roles are vastly different and commissioners are not tasked with the maintenance and repairs of county roads in their precincts as they are in Liberty County.
“Responsibility comes with the territory,” Knight said.
To see the proposed Fiscal Year 2024 budget, which is still evolving and will not be approved until September, click here: https://www.co.liberty.tx.us/page/liberty.Budgets