County Judge Harbison takes hard line stand on pay raises for county's taxing entities

County appraisal district officials questioned for budgeting 3 percent pay raise for staff in 2021
“We have been tasked by the legislature and the governor to not go up on taxes," said Shelby County Judge Allison Harbison on Wednesday. “We really don't want to see any raises this year."

Shelby County Judge Allison Harbison on Wednesday took a hard line stand on no pay raises for county entities represented by the Shelby County Appraisal District for the upcoming budget year.

That was in response to an agenda item on the commissioners' court agenda featuring a presentation by Robert Pigg, chief appraiser, and a discussion of the district's proposed 2021 budget.
“I put this on the agenda because I wanted us to discuss it,” Harbison said. “We have been tasked by the legislature and the governor to not go up on taxes.

`”They've made it pretty plain that they don't intend for us to go up on taxes, therefore, this year we are holding steady, hopefully we're going to be able to keep the same budget we had last year,” she said. “So we aren't anticipating any raises for anyone this year.”

Harbison said county administrators “are asking everyone to get their pencils out and keep their budget as low as they can.”

Since Shelby County itself represents about 35 percent of the appraisal district budget, Harbison said she wanted commissioners to review the district's budget. In the version up for consideration at a public hearing next Tuesday, the district has a proposed budget of $728,228, which is an increase of $35,311, or about 4.8 percent, above the current year's budget.

Included is about a 3 percent increase in salaries for the appraisal district's seven staffers.

“We really don't want to see any raises this year,” Harbison said. Pigg said the raises were included in the district's preliminary budget to be considered by the district's board of directors on July 7.

“I might point out to you that we have lost one full-time employee and have absorbed that (workload) by the other employees in the office,” Pigg said. “We are are still below 2018, the amount we had in salaries and wages in 2018. It is still less in 2021 than it was in 2018.”

Pigg said pending lawsuits stemming from past years could result in some hefty attorney bills.

“Our biggest expenses this year you should really be concerned about are the attorneys fees which are going to be astronomical at this point,” Pigg said. The appraisal district had contingency fund which had about $70,000 in it, which now down to about $36,798 now, he said.

Harbison said she was adamant in feeling salaries need to be frozen.

“With the legislature, and the governor slapping the entities' hands and telling us we can't raise taxes …. I just don't know that we can justify” that, she said. “We all understand that, how we have to absorb everybody else's jobs, but I really think …. we would really like to see you hold your salaries.”

Pigg said the district can do that with the board considering that action at next Tuesday's appraisal board board meeting. He said a staff pay increase has traditionally been included in the appraisal district' budget annually when the budget process starts.

“When the meeting comes Tuesday night we kind of have another proposal to maybe apply a little bit more to the retirement fund instead of to the salary fund,” he said. “And that is something I would ask the board to look at if the board says no to the 3 percent increase.

“I'm just going to let you know that that is just a drop in the bucket compared to what I'm concerned about with the attorneys fees,” Pigg said. The lawyer fees stem from

Harbison said she is aware of that.

“I know that but everything counts at this point,” she said.

Commissioner Roscoe McSwain said he agrees.

“To me it's symbolic, if the employees of the county can't have a raise, I don't think anyone else should,” McSwain said.

Doing research on the topic, Harbison said she prepared a salary comparison scale.

“Your salaries are already so much more than what the county's salaries are,” she said.

The appraisal district is supported solely by payments from the local taxing units served by the district. Based on the county accounting for about 35 percent of the district's budget, it would funds approximately $255,000 of the 2021 proposed budget.

If approved by the appraisal district board of directors at the public hearing, this proposed budget will take effect automatically unless disapproved by the governing bodies of the county, school districts, cities and towns served by the appraisal district, according to a public notice for the meeting.

Pigg said he understands Harbison's point of view.

“At the same time, our job doesn't get any easier,” he said. Harbison said the commissioners' court appreciated him discussing the issues with them.

“We appreciate you listening to our concerns,” she said. “We're just trying to be the best public stewards of the money we can.”

For a related story with background on the lawsuits Pigg referred to, please visit:

https://www.lightandchampion.com/news-center-news-joaquin-news-shelbyville-news-tenaha-news-timpson-news/shelby-county-faces

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