Salaries for Justices of the Peace are equalized

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Jim Wells County Correspondent

Jim Wells County Justices of the Peace received salary equalization, and the sheriff's department agreed to decrease its salary requests during Sept. 27 Commissioners' Court meeting.

County officials approved the tax rate at the proposed effective rate of $0.6580 for the 2008 county budget. The effective tax rate is the rate necessary to collect the same amount of tax revenue as last year. Last year's tax rate was $0.7058. The county also officially approved the 2008 county budget.

The court started discussions Sept. 27 with $405,000 worth of added budget requests. This amount includes increases in salaries, office supplies and an across-the-board five percent cost of living increase for 2008.

On the budget, Sheriff Oscar Lopez agreed to reduce his salary requests from $163,000 to $125,000, to help keep the budget in line.

The county was looking at a total cost of $193,000 for the salary increases, including fringe benefits. An accurate new total, including fringe benefits, was not yet available from the county auditor.

Sheriff's Department Administrator Ricardo Palacios said the salary increases at $163,000 were in place to avoid a salary crunch among the deputies in the department. He said that with the reductions in salary, the gaps between officers have become tighter, but it is an area the department is willing to work with.

Under the new salary adjustments, which were put in place to allow the department to compete financially with other law enforcement agencies in the area, new deputies will start at $26,000, with the most veteran officers making as much as $36,000, Palacios said. The increases will also raise correctional officer salaries to a starting point of $22,500 and the communications up to $20,000.

The JPs were also compensated equally under the approved budget. The position of Pct. 1 JP, which was vacated by Alonzo Villarreal earlier this month, will be filled by the efforts of Pct. 6 JP Jose Rodriguez, Pct. 5 JP Luz Paiz and Pct. 4 JP Sylvia Johnson.

For their efforts, the county will compensate Johnson and Paiz with $2,500 each for next year. Rodriguez will receive an additional $5,000 for his efforts, since he will spend twice as much time covering Pct. 1 work because of his office's proximity in Ben Bolt. Rodriguez, Paiz and Pct. 1 positions were set Thursday at a base salary of $40,481 for purposes of equalization. Along with the stipend for Pct. 1 duties, Paiz will receive $5,500 for truancy court duties in the Orange Grove area, and Rodriguez will now receive $8,500 for his truancy court duties for Alice, Ben Bolt and Premont.

The commissioners also raised Johnson's base salary from $27,500 to $30,000, following recommendations from the salary grievance committee that convened earlier this month. Her base salary and Pct. 1 assistance stipend will set her salary at $32,500 for 2008. Rodriguez's salary will be at $53,981 and Paiz will be at $47,981 for 2008. County commissioners also discussed the distribution of the Road and Bridge Funds.

The court agreed that for 2008 it would divide the first $400,000 coming into the funds evenly between the four precincts, to cover administrative costs in each percent. The rest of the funding would be divided up normally into percentages based on the number of roads in each precinct. Typically, Precinct 1 and 2 spend more of their total budget on administrative costs than Precincts 3 and 4, because they receive a smaller portion of the overall fund because those areas have fewer roads in their precincts. All four precincts spend nearly the same amount administratively, but at the end of the day, precinct 2 had less to work with per roadway.

An exact total on the new budget was not available after the meeting, with County Auditor Eladio Gonzalez needing time to calculate the cuts and increases in the budget along with their effects on fringe amounts. Under budgetary expenditures, the general fund was set at approximately $14,282,554 and the Road and Bridge Funds were set at $3,678,362. The total proposed budgetary expenditure for the county in 2008 is $20,241,355.rate for 2008 budget|