Big pay day on hold for Travis County commissioners

The question for Travis County Commissioners Tuesday wasn't whether they'd get a pay raise. It was about how quickly it should come. 

A proposal to do a lump sum payment of a little more than $30,000 was just too much to swallow for Commissioner Gerald Daugherty.

"I think that we deserve raises, and I'm willing to have raises, I just feel that this is an insulting raise,” said Daughtery.

Commissioners are considering a possible two percent across-the-board pay raise for most county employees. The hourly wage is also being increased from $13 to $15, but commissioners already have set a pay hike plan for themselves. 

Crunching the numbers to speed things up resulted in some political head butting during the meeting.

In 2018, when they were paid $106,031, the commissioners approved a three-year pay plan. According to the plan, each year commissioners would get about a $15,000 raise. By year three, the salary for a Travis County Commissioner tops out at almost $152,000. 

The commissioners backed off an idea to combine the two final proposed pay increases into one big pay-day for themselves. Commissioner Margaret Gomez justified the increase in pay. 

"I spend a lot of time on this job, when I’m not sitting here, I’m thinking about my job on the way home, I think about it when I’m at home, I take calls from people in the evening, I’m not an 8-to-5 person,” said Gomez.

Commissioner Brigid Shea suggested more money could actually help buy better candidates.

"I don’t think that democracy is well served when only the wealthy or independently wealthy can afford to serve as representatives,” said Shea.

A new state law regulating local property taxes prompted this rush to increase pay in Travis County. Starting next year a public vote will be required for tax increases that exceed a spending cap. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who opposed the state action, defended addressing the pay hike issue now.

"I do want to remark there was nothing arbitrary, the word arbitrary has been used repeatedly here, there is nothing arbitrary about our analysis,” said Eckhardt.

The idea for a big pay bump was boosted by a recent market analysis. It was determined the commissioners and other top elected officials in Travis County are paid less than those in other counties. 

For example, staff members told the commissioners that Harris County pays around $180,000, and Bexar County the pay is at about $122,000. Pay equity is important for some taxpayers like Tray Dornes.

"Anybody taking their time out to do anything than their normal life, working period, deserves a pay increase,” said Dornes.

Others, like Dixie King, said it’s also important to remember who is paying the bill. 

"No one can keep up with that, your taxes have got to be raised, and that hurts everybody,” said King.

A final decision on pay will come in late September when commissioners finalize the budget.