The Gilmer City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday not to veto the Upshur County Appraisal District's proposed budget for 2014, handing budget foes one of at least two setbacks they suffered this week after at least four other taxing entities voted for veto resolutions.
On Wednesday, New Diana School Supt. Carl Key told The Mirror his school board will not vote on the matter—which is tantamount to approving the budget. However, the Union Grove School Board was scheduled to consider voting on the issue Thursday night.
Of 17 taxing entities which have a say on the UCAD budget, at least nine must veto it by July 10 in order to negate it. Upshur County Commissioners Court, the Gladewater and Big Sandy City Councils, and the Ore City ISD Board of Trustees have all approved veto resolutions in the past three weeks.
But the Gilmer council rebuffed Pct. 3 County Commissioner Frank Berka's request for a veto resolution after he expressed concern that the $790,000 budget has a five percent pay raise for Appraisal District employees. He said the district "adopted a budget they don't have to fund. You and I (the city and county governments, among other taxing entities) do."
Berka said Marion County's appraisal district had given no raises in four years, and that Camp County's appraisal district had just awarded its first raise in two years. He also said the City of Gilmer's share of funding the Upshur district's budget would be $37,951, that the Upshur County Commissioners Court's portion would be $213,000; and that the proposed budget would force a tax increase. The commissioner said district personnel and officials had no incentive to curb spending as "they answer to no one." Berka additionally said the funding required for the proposed budget "holds us (county officials) back" from what they want to do, and "Your veto vote would show solidarity with the county" and the other taxing entities which vetoed the budget.
However, District 3 Councilman Brian Williams said it seemed the UCAD had checked other district's salaries, and "I think it's only fair to listen to them." He said he could understand the Upshur entity's "trying to keep pace" with other Appraisal Districts' pay.
Councilman-At-Large Michael Chevalier said he didn't want the county telling the council how to vote.
However, Mayor R.D. (Buck) Cross expressed support for a veto, saying the five percent raise "is too much" when "the money's scarce"--and when the city had "squeezed" its budget to give smaller raises to "excellent" employees.
Had the Appraisal District sought only a 2 to 3 percent hike, Cross asserted, "We probably wouldn't be having this discussion."
Said City Mgr. Jeff Ellington, "Unfortunately, you (the council and mayor) don't get to vote on the percentage of pay raise."
Mayor Pro Tem William Hornsby said he agreed with the mayor that "five percent is a little steep," and that he favored a three percent hike because "they (district employees) deserve something." But, Hornsby added, "I don't want to go on record as vetoing it (the budget). I want them to get some type of raise."
Hornsby made the motion, seconded by Chevalier, not to approve a veto resolution. Joining them in voting for the motion were Williams, District 4 Councilwoman Brenda Jeffery, and District 2 Councilman Jose Cavazos.
Cross and Councilwoman At-Large Teathel Hollis voted against Hornsby's motion. After the meeting, Ellington said it was the council's first divided vote (except for abstentions) during his eight and a half years as city manager.
When the council discussed the proposed veto after hearing the first part of Berka's presentation, Chevalier and Hornsby criticized Berka for his published remark that he believed the budget would be approved because taxing entities other than the County Commissioners Court would be "asleep at the wheel."
Chevalier angrily told the commissioner he "found it insulting, your comment in the paper last week," which prompted an apology from Berka. Horsnby then told the commissioner it was "not fair to lump us in with" other entities, and "I think you also need to apologize to the citizens of this town."
"Point is well-taken and I will do that," replied Berka, who had persuaded the Gladewater and Big Sandy City Councils to back his veto effort.
On Wednesday, New Diana ISD Supt. Key said his board would not vote on a veto resolution because there is "not enough time to process the information to get all that done" by the July 10 deadline for voting.
Upshur County Republican Party Chairman Cynthia Ridgeway, who has joined Berka in trying to persuade entities to pass veto resolutions, had recently asked the New Diana board for one. But with no regular board meeting scheduled for July, a special session would have to be called for such a vote, Key told The Mirror.
In addition, he said, "I can't find any history of where the (school) district has ever gone into discussion" on the Appraisal District budget.
The Ore City City Council was scheduled to consider the matter June 27. If an entity takes no action on the budget, it is tantamount to approving it.
Upshur County Pct. 1 Comm. Paula Gentry and David Clay, chairman of the Appraisal District's Board of Directors, were scheduled to appear before the Union Grove School Board concerning the issue Thursday night.