Fannin County Commissioners Court is the chief executive board in the county and, as such, determines the salaries of all but a handful of county employees. At the same time, the law states that district judges can set the salaries for county auditors and the district court reporter.
As Shakespeare famously noted, "Therein lies the rub."
A vociferous debate erupted Monday over the increasing disparity between salaries set by a commissioners court that feels ultimately responsible to taxpayers and to treat all county employees equitably, and salaries set by district court that feels ultimately responsible to maintain the best employees possible to serve those same taxpayers.
At the heart of the matter were agenda Items in the regular meeting of Fannin County Commissioners Court notifying county commissioners that District Judge Lauri Blake had set the district court reporter's salary at $59,759.06, the salary of the county auditor at $58,818.89, and the assistant county auditors at $41,445.38, $31,500 and $26,189.89.
"The taxpayers will have to pay that," responded Fannin County Judge Spanky Carter, adding that the average household income in Fannin County is approximately $43,000. "I've made it clear that we will try to give every county employee a 3% raise this year and I'm proud of that. Not all counties have been able to accomplish that. We've also managed to lower the tax rate for the past three years. It will be very difficult to continue that trend. I think commissioners court should make the financial decisions for Fannin County. Otherwise, a lot of people will resent it. I think it causes hard feelings. It is hard for us to move forward when moral isn't good."
"The law says the district judge can set the salary for the auditor," countered Judge Blake. "The commissioners court has the power to tax us and spend it as you see fit, but we have to pay for value."
"We all run as conservatives -- that's how we get elected," Carter responded, "yet we keep growing government. The tax rate is 59 1/2 cents; how high does that need to be? To me, it is already too high."
"I think to get people less qualified is a disservice," Blake said. "People are willing to pay for good services. We like the rhetoric of 'cut taxes' but we want services."
"The only way I know to cut spending is to lower taxes," stated Carter, "and we've taken it down from 62 cents to 59 1/2 cents. If I'm going to care about one thing in this county, it's the people who are making less. If I do anything, it will be to help those people who are having a difficulty time. I don't think we can spend our way out of our problem."
Much of the discussion Monday focused on the district judge's decision to usurp county commissioners plan to give all county employees a 3% raise and instead give the county auditor a 5% raise.
"This decision is about getting people into these positions who can help Fannin County grow," said Fannin County Auditor Scott Dyer. "Let's work together for the future."
"You have always done us a good job," replied Fannin County Commissioner Stan Barker, "and all your assistants are great. That's not the issue. It's about being a team here. That's something I've worried about for eight years."
The Road & Bridge funds that county commissioners have at their disposal to maintain roads has remained fairly constant over the past decade while other department budgets have grown inexplicably.
"We've actually given up money over the years to help the rest of the county," Commissioner Barker remarked. "Our guys deserve a raise as much as anybody."
In last summer's budget talks, Barker pointed out that that Fannin County District Attorney Richard Glaser's budget has increased 350% since fiscal year 2004-2005.
"Richard, I know how much your department has grown," said Barker. "Is that teamwork? What kind of team?"
"We are team players," Mr. Glaser responded, "and I think we deserve recognition for that. I have very little turnover in my office."
"I had guys that last year almost walked off the job because everyone got a raise but them," Fannin County Commissioner Gary Whitlock interjected into the conversation. "My guys need a raise."
"You can sit on the outside and say 'spend, spend, spend,' Carter told Blake and Glaser, "but all I'm doing is what I think the majority of people want us to do. I think people in this county feel they pay too much for taxes and the last thing they want to see us do is spend more money for Fannin County government. I worry a lot more about the people making $25,000 and trying to feed their families than those making $250,000 -- I figure those guys will take care of themselves."