In May of 2021, the county received $133,961 in reimbursement funds from FEMA for direct administrative costs associated with Hurricane Harvey.
$35,813 of the monies went to the county’s Road and Bridge Fund, and the remaining balance of $98,148 was applied to the general fund.
The $98,148 is now proposed as incentive pay for the county judge, the county auditor and their offices for work associated with Hurricane Harvey over the next two years.
‘There’s No Money’
During the public comment portion of the meeting, county employees questioned the decision to only reward those selected offices.
Drainage supervisor and former Pct. 2 commissioner Rusty Graves said, “I’ve had several of my employees, several co-workers approach me about these proposed stipends and there are a lot of concerns.”
He continued, “I guess the overall point is they are feeling left out. The scenario that they used is when you asked me to take over [for the late] Chris King, I ran two departments and no extra benefits. People have asked for budget items that they aren’t going to get, because ‘there’s no money’. But somehow there’s money for these stipends.”
Since Graves spoke during public comment, commissioners were not allowed to address him, however, Spenrath changed the order of the posted agenda to move item #25 Budget Workshop to the first discussion topic of Monday’s meeting.
Spenrath quickly over went the budget for the audience and commissioners.
“The budget still uses the No-New-Revenue tax rate, we voted to formerly use the tax rate,” he said. “It’s our understanding using these numbers that we’re not raising taxes; The only increase in property taxes is new value.”
He continued, “So now if you look at the fund balances in the bottom, the minimum we try to keep in the general fund is $5 Million; You see it’s at $5,135,000. So, it’s pretty tight.”
Back To The Incentive Pay
“I would like to challenge this court to look at every budget and every employee and what that employee does for this county.”
“As I understand it, there were FEMA funds sent for administrative services associated with Hurricane Harvey,” Spenrath said. “There was money sent for administrative services for the auditors staff to use for all the extra filings, and for me, as far as going to meetings and Zoom calls, and whatever.
“We hire GrantWorks, but GrantWorks doesn’t do it all.”
Spenrath explained that his administrative assistant has to write letters and make phone calls to the GLO office all the time.
He stressed that these funds were to be used to reimburse only administrative services.
Wharton County Auditor Barbara Starling stated that the money was awarded because of a log highlighting her office’s time and the judge’s time surrounding Hurricane Harvey.
“$98,000 of extra money came in,” Starling said. “That’s when I approached the judge and said, ‘we have all of these new grants that are coming about, is there any way I can get some extra help and hire a grant accountant?’
“Basically he said, I don’t know if we can swing that. I said a grant accountant would be wonderful, but whenever we move through out of the whole $136,000, then we’re going to have to fire an employee.”
Starling said since her workload would be added to, she recommended to pay herself, her staff, the judge and the judge’s staff a grant supplement with the funds in question.
Spenrath made sure to let the audience and staff members present know that this, “Wasn’t his idea,” and that the money isn’t taxpayer money, “It’s just money sitting there.”
Monica Martin, Wharton County Permits and Inspections Supervisor, said, “I understand the administrative [part]. I understand all of that. What I am going to ask the court to do, since we can talk about this right now, is I’m 60. I’ve been here 37 years.
“Anything that y’all do in the future really doesn’t have a longterm effect on me or my retirement, but I’m here for some of the other employees that are not that way. I would like to challenge this court to look at every budget and every employee and what that employee does for this county.”
Martin went on to describe the extra duties and responsibilities of a few employees and the overall morale of the county.
“Other than the cost-of-living raises, I have had one merit raise in 21 years,” she said. “That’s not rewarding people for the responsibilities that they carry. I’m not trying to fuss at anyone, because that’s the way it’s always been, but it’s not right guys. Y’all need to look at what every department does.
“I’m telling you, the morale of this county has gone way down. It’s not the county it used to be.”
The 2021-22 payout would include: $7,500 to the judge; $5,000 to his assistant; $7,500 for the county auditor; $6,000 to the auditor’s assistant; and an additional $14,000 for employees that work in those offices, as well as, $9,271.34 covering benefits for each individual.
These would be paid from the county’s general fund, where the initial reimbursement funds from FEMA were accepted.
Since the item at hand is within the proposed budget, Wharton County Commissioners would have to amend the proposed budget and postpone the budget hearing to act on the expressed concern.
“I will abstain from the vote,” Spenrath said. “I don’t want it to look like I’m giving myself a raise.”
The 2021-22 Wharton County Budget hearing is set for Monday, September 13, beginning at 9:30 a.m. At that time, commissioners will vote to accept the proposed budget, containing the discussed incentive pay.
For more information and to view meeting agendas, packets and minutes, visit the Wharton County website.