GILMER — Upshur County Commissioners Court on Friday apparently became the first of the county's taxing entities to "veto" the Upshur County Appraisal District's proposed 2014 budget — a move that will negate the budget only if several other such entities follow suit.
At least nine of the 17 taxing entities that elect the district's board of directors must pass a resolution vetoing the $790,755 budget to kill its controversial 5 percent proposed pay raise for district employees, which the board authorized in a 3-1 vote to approve the budget Monday.
An entity that doesn't specifically veto the budget by July 10 automatically accepts it, according to county Chief Appraiser Sarah Curtis, who recommended the pay increase. She said Friday she was unaware of any other entity having acted so far, and that she had expected the commissioners' veto.
The commissioners court voted 4-0 to reject the budget, with all four commissioners approving the veto resolution. (The court's only other member, County Judge Dean Fowler, normally votes only to break ties).
In the resolution introduced by Precinct 3 Commissioner Frank Berka, the court said approving the pay raise might require a tax increase, and that the appraisal district has included pay raises in five of the past six years' budgets.
Commissioners also have objected to the pay hike on grounds that county workers have not received a raise in almost seven years, and that the county cannot afford one for them in the wake of a major budget shortfall that recently surfaced. The commissioners court cut the current county budget by nearly $1 million to prevent the shortfall.
David Clay, chairman of the appraisal district's board of directors, has said the pay hike was needed to compete with other appraisal districts for appraisers, and that bringing in a new appraiser rather than keeping a current one would cost $10,000.
Mrs. Curtis meanwhile has said the district is "not up to average" in paying its employees, compared with other counties' appraisal districts.
But at Friday's meeting, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Cole Hefner cited the "current financial situation of the county" in opposing the measure. Hefner also noted that the county government pays almost 27 percent of the appraisal district's annual budget — more than any of 18 other funding entities, except the Gilmer ISD.
Hefner also said the county would have to pay about $4,500 of the total $18,000 proposed for pay raises.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Paula Gentry, who along with Precinct 4 Commissioner Mike Spencer joined Berka and Hefner in voting to veto the budget, noted the commissioners had no legal authority to reject just a part of it.