Gilmer City Council votes not to veto appraisal district's budget

Published on Tuesday, 25 June 2013 21:03 - Written by BY PHILLIP WILLIAMS Special Correspondent

GILMER—The Gilmer City Council voted 5 to 2 Tuesday not to veto the Upshur County Appraisal District’s proposed budget for 2014, handing budget opponents a setback after at least four other taxing entities voted for veto resolutions.

Of 17 taxing entities that have a say on the 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 all have approved veto resolutions in the past two weeks.

But the Gilmer council rejected Precinct 3 County Commissioner Frank Berka’s request for a veto resolution after he expressed concern that the $790,000 budget contains a five percent pay raise for appraisal district employees. He said Marion County’s appraisal district had given no raises in four years, and that Camp County’s appraisal district had just given its first raise in two years.

Berka 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 share would be $213,000; and that the proposed budget would force a tax increase. He also said the proposal “holds us (county officials) back” from what they want to do.

District 3 Councilman Brian Williams said it seemed the Upshur appraisal district 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.

But Mayor R.D. (Buck) Cross expressed support for a veto, saying the five percent raise “is too much” when the city had squeezed its budget to give lesser raises to “excellent” employees.

Had the appraisal district proposed only a 2 to 3 percent hike, Cross said, “We probably wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

Mayor Pro Tem William Hornsby meanwhile said he agreed with Cross 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 supporting the motion were Williams, District 4 Councilwoman Brenda Jeffery, and District 2 Councilman Jose Cavazos.

Cross and Councilwoman At-Large Teathel Hollis opposed Hornsby’s motion.

When the council discussed the proposed veto after hearing the initial part of Berka’s presentation, Chevalier and Hornsby blasted 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 Berka he “found it insulting, your comment in the paper last week,” which prompted an apology from Berka. Horsnby then told Berka it was “not fair to lump us in with” other entities and that “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.

The Union Grove School Board is scheduled to consider a veto resolution Thursday night, while the Ore City City Council is scheduled to consider the matter July 9. If an entity takes no action on the budget, it is tantamount to approving it.

Upshur County Chief Appraiser Sarah Curtis, who recommended the controversial pay raise, declined comment Tuesday night on the Gilmer council’s vote. City Manager Jeff Ellington said it was the first split council vote (not counting votes with abstentions) in his eight and a half years in his post.