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As their first order of business, Hidalgo County approved a new budget amendment policy in their Tuesday, Jan. 22, meeting that stated, “Once the county budget has been adopted for the ensuing fiscal year, the County of Hidalgo Commissioner’s Court will not consider any changes to the number of positions and salary paid to each authorized position within a department/office which will have a fiscal impact on the current or future General Fund budgets.

Personnel actions allowed under the County’s Personnel Policy Manual, Civil Service Commission Rules and Law Enforcement Pay Plan are allowed. Personnel-related requests, including salary adjustments or number of positions in an office or department in violation of this policy shall not be included on the Commissioner’s Court agenda for consideration, the policy also states.

Later, in the same meeting, the commissioners violated the new policy by approving a salary adjustment for a Chief Deputy Constable I in Pct. 2. There was a request to move him from step two to step five because he had 25 years of law enforcement experience and most of that in management.

Commissioners questioned how they could approve the request in light of the new policy. After debating the question for a while, they approved an $1800 supplement, to which he is entitled for having a master’s degree. That was added to the Step 2 pay of $51,718 for a total of $53,518. However the commissioners did not approved the skip to Step 5, which would have given him a salary of $57,063.

Salaries for the 370th District Court were adjusted so the court coordinator would get a $3140 increase to $67,000. The assistant coordinator received a $3200 increase to $65,000. The bailiff was given a $1436 raise to $56,500. The changes were made through elimination of a salary within their department.

398th District Court Judge Aida Salinas Flores asked that a program manager in her department with a salary of $62,646 be reclassified as Indigent Defense Director at a salary of $70,000. She said the request had been submitted during the budget process considerations but was left out.

The County Clerk’s Office requested the commissioners to raise the salaries of 17 Deputy County Clerk I positions from $26,014 to $27,000, a difference of $986. The spokeswoman for the request said they were losing personnel once they were trained because they could get higher paying jobs elsewhere. She also said the request had been made at budget time but had not been acted on.

Judge Ramon Garcia said he did not see how they could approve the request since they had already approved the amendment to the budget policy. After discussion the judge asked if they had money in their budget that could be moved into salaries to cover the expense this year. If they did it could be approved and worked into next year’s budget. The impact would be $17,700 if taken from the general fund.

Six additional Deputy County Clerk I positions in archives were also approved for the raise because there was already money in their budget.

Under the Urban County Program deletion of a position for compliance monitor at $49,834 and creation of Monitor III position at $52,002 was approved as discussed in a previous meeting.

Under the public defenders office one full-time Public Defender II position was created at $50,487.

Under another item District Attorney Rene Guerra questioned the right of the auditor to place money from bond forfeitures into the Road and Bridge Fund. He explained that in earlier times the fees collected by the D.A.’s office went to pay their salaries, but several years ago when it was obvious there were not enough fees being generated the state approved salaries for the D. A.’s office. At that time fees were supposed to go to the general fund.

Guerra stated in his opinion this was an illegal action and the money should be returned to the D.A.’s office for their use. The estimated five percent bail bond forfeiture would add about $200,000 to the D.A.’s budget that could be used for other salaries. After discussion it was decided to return the money to the D.A.’s budget.

Afterwards, the commissioners approved salary increases, reallocation of funds, positions and employee transfers, auto allowance adjustments, creation and deletion of slots, title changes and the salary schedule for the D.A.’s office.

In other action, the commission approved a lease agreement for $10,190 for property located at 323 West Cano Street where the 430th District Court is located. The contract allows for two additional one-year terms at that price.

When questioned why the court was not being moved into the courthouse like other courts, he said this was the court where consideration was being given to moving existing courts around and renovate space on the third floor for one of the smaller courts.   He said after studying the amount of space available, it just was not feasible to make those changes.

The judge said that all of the new courtrooms being added at the courthouse already had future court occupants after renovations were completed.

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