Orange County judges and DA get pay supplement
Orange County commissioners met Friday, Sept. 13, to discuss the reinstatement of $15,000 in county supplements the to salaries of district judges and the district attorney.
Monday, Sept. 9, commissioners voted 3-2 to take away the supplements due to budgetary constraints. Pct. 4 Commissioner Jody Crump said at that meeting he felt the county should absorb the funds amounting to $15,000 each for the three district judges and district attorney because the state increased salaries by 12 percent, which would in effect be $15,000 each for the district judges. Therefore, in the end, the elected officials affected would make the same salaries as they did before the Texas State Legislature approved the pay raises earlier this year.
Due to legal concerns expressed by Orange County Attorney Douglas Manning at the Sept. 9 meeting, commissioners agreed to discuss the matter again and put the measure to a new vote at a meeting Friday, Sept. 13.
“It’s sort of a daisy chain of laws,” Manning explained Sept. 13. “You understand that the district attorney’s compensation and the district judges’ and the county court at law judges’ — all that compensation is tied together.”
Manning said Orange County District Attorney John Kimbrough is a state prosecutor subject to the Professional Prosecutors Act. According to Section 46.006(b) of the Texas Government Code, county commissioners cannot reduce supplements to salaries based on state increases in salaries.
It reads, “The commissioners court in each county that has a prosecutor subject to this chapter may not reduce the county funds provided for the salary or office of the prosecutor as a result of the funds provided by this chapter (re: state compensation).”
Chapter 46 also mandates that state prosecutors do not practice law privately while in office, a fact proponents of the raise say factors into their compensation since private attorneys have the potential to make more money. As state prosecutors, they forfeit that potential.
Because the district attorney’s raise and supplement cannot legally be changed and are tied to the salaries of district judges, the district judges compensation must go up as much as the district attorney’s, in this case also $15,000. In turn, per section 25.005(a) of the Government Code, county judges’ salaries should be $1,000 less than the salary of a district judge in the same county, with the exception of county judges who practice law privately.
The section reads, “A statutory county court judge, other than a statutory county court judge who engages in the private practice of law, shall be paid a total annual salary set by the commissioners court at an amount that is not less than $1,000 less than the total annual salary received by a district judge in the county.”
For Orange County, that means the county court at law judges must also receive the $15,000 increase in total salary. Orange County is supplementing the pay of the district judges the maximum amount legally allowed at $15,000.
During Friday’s meeting, Crump said he made a mistake when he motioned to take away the district attorney’s supplement. Manning said the mistake would have to corrected by affirmative action because it was an illegal move in the first place. Crump motioned to reinstate the supplement to the district attorney. The motion passed unanimously. He balked, however, when reinstating the supplements for district judges came up for vote in a separate motion. He said he understood that the salaries were tied together but voted against the measure regardless. Nevertheless, it passed 4-1.
Commissioners also discussed a $4 million loan to help balance the county budget Friday, Sept. 13, and again on Monday, Sept. 16, when they voted on the measure.
Wells Fargo Bank and the Orange Savings Bank, now owned by First Financial, both vied for the opportunity to loan the county funds. Sept. 13, the banks made presentations to commissioners and discussed fees and interest rates. Wells Fargo pitched the loan as a draft, which would mean the county would essentially have a $4 million credit line and would only have to pay back mandatory fees plus principle and interest on only what was borrowed from the draft fund. Orange Savings presented commissioners with lower fees and interest rates on a loan, which would mean borrowing the whole $4 million up front.
Josh Rodriguez from Wells Fargo addressed commissioners saying that he believed the interest would amount to much less using the draft procedure even though the interest rate was higher. Joe Love of Orange Savings spoke up and said his bank would also be willing to do the loan as a draft and would match the lower interest rate they already quoted. Judge Carl Thibodeaux agreed to let both come back Sept. 16 to negotiate and present new proposals. Wells Fargo representatives indicated they had made their best bid already, and then did not attend the Sept. 16 meeting.
Commissioners voted to accept the loan from Orange Savings pending approval from the attorney general. The interest rate is 1.95 percent and the fees amount to $9,000.