Salaries for Justices of the Peace equalized

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

Jim Wells County Justices of the Peace received salary equalization, and the sheriff's department agreed to decrease its salary requests during Thursday's 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 Thursday 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.

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, Sheriff's Department Administrator Ricardo 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.

Pct. 3 Justice of the Peace Karin Knolle did not see her salary equalized with the rest of the justices of the peace during budget talks by Jim Wells County Commissioners. Her salary is $24,897 and was not equalized to $40,481 with the other three precincts.

Knolle did receive the 5 percent cost of living raise along with other county employees, bringing her new salary for the 2008 budget to the $24,897.

The court agreed that for the 2008 Road and Bridge Fund 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.