The Gaines County Commisioners Court held its second meeting of the month on Monday at the Gaines County Courthouse, and before the more than three-hour meeting was adjourned, County Auditor Rick Dollahan reminded the gathering that, through responsible stewardship of public funds, the Court had continued to meet its mandate of bringing County spending in just under budget.
While virtually every regular agenda item meeting with consensus between the four Commisioners, an appearance by District Attorney Michael Munk led to a spirited discussion between himself and Judge Lance Celander. At issue were a budget request for cell phone and travel reimbursements for some employees of Munk's office, and the continuation, at current funding levels, of a roughly two-year-old arrangement by which the Gaines County Attorney does additional legal work for the D.A.'s office. Munk reminded the Court that Gaines County has surpassed Dawson County in contributions to the District Court's docket.
As the non-voting supervisor of the Court, Celander was opposed to a continuation of this arrangement beyond the next six months, while the Commisioners, after weighing the complexities of the issue against the interests of the County, chose to continue it for the time being, and voiced that decision during the later Budget Workshop. Some were less comfortable with Munk's categorization of a requested $2,400 in vehicle mileage reimbursements as employee "perks", and rejected those as income enhancers that had less to do with actual expenses. With the compromise, "I think we met him more than halfway," one Commisioner offered.
Earlier, the morning session began with the Court accepting the resignation of Perry Schaffer, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Family and Consumer Science agent. Ms. Schaffer, who announced that she would be returning to Texas Tech to pursue her graduate degree, expressed her gratitude for the cooperation she received from the County. When queried about her experiences by Judge Celander, she described them as all positive.
Gaines County Library Director Jane Bering appeared before the Court to articulate the need for the library to begin accepting electronic funds. She explained that the library is on a book loan program, and when the number of books loaned out exceeds the number brought in, the library receives a per-book cash reimbursement for the shortfall. With the Court's subsequent unanimous approval, the transactions may continue via electronic fund transferrals.
The Court moved on to approve the opening of bids for a haul truck to replace a 25-year-old unit currently in use by Precinct 4, approved the current roster of election judges, gave the nod to a plan to replace eight copiers in various county offices under a lease with CMC Business Systems, and chose to select a new credit card provider whose equipment it agreed would be more user-friendly to County employees than the current system. With the recent upgrade of Sheriff's Department vehicles, the Commissioners also voted unanimously to declare three of the department's silver Dodge Chargers as surplus equipment, to be released for resale. Volunteer Kayla Pipkin was also chosen as the new Wellness Coordinator.
With County Treasurer Michael Lord's endorsement, the Commisioners also voted unanimously to include the New York Life Insurance Company as an option for the County employees open enrollment plan. Lord reasoned that the company does allow emplyees to take their insurance policies with them if and when they leave the service of the County. The Court also approved the Gaines County Catastrophic Leave Committee, and approved minimal increases in rates for Eye Care Insurance through the Amarillo-based office of Ameritas. Still with an eye toward the potential ramifications of the Affordable Health Care Act, Lord also introduced an alternate plan from the Texas Association of Counties Health and Employee Benefits Pool that would reflect lower premiums, but increased deductibles across the board, and increased copayments for non-emergency visits. The changes will take effect for the fiscal year beginning October 1st.
To wrap up regular agenda items, Commissioner Blair Tharp's third precinct received approvals for a 42-lot subdivision at Windmill Estates, and a 40-lot parcel at Mesquite Grove. The two developments flank the Frankel City highway on the east and west.
During the Budget Workshop, Civil Defense Coordinator Robert Barrett made his case for an increased salary for his part-time position, based on increased workload, and discussed with the Commissioners his recent request for additional electronic equipment that included three I-pads,a laptop computer, an AED heart monitor and stimulator, a GPS device, and a "Jetpack", leased through Verizon, that would provide internet access to computer applications via cell signals for emergency crews in the field.
County Treasurer Lord made available to the Court some new information that clarifies regulations concerning part-time employees, part of an ongoing dialogue for regional and state governments across the country, as well as business interests. Part-time employees may exceed the 28-hour limit per week that keeps them below the "Obamacare" threshhold, so long as they do not exceed a total of 728 hours for a six-month period. This caveat may create some guesswork in scheduling for some department heads, while allowing for more flexible scheduling among others whose part-time jobs may involve work of a more seasonal nature.
With the concept of "wellness" entering the popular dialogue as a means of preventing illness, the court answered requests by some County employees to waive their portions of County Golf Course green fees and other fees related to use of the M.S. Doss Fitness Center. It was decided that for a one-year period, beginning with the fiscal year that starts October 1st, the County would absorb the cost for all persons who are covered under its insurance plans, including any dependents of employees, and elected officials.
After setting fees for the use of County property by non-profits during its last session, the Court followed up Monday with further discussions concerning fees for for-profit events. The fee structure will include a $300 deposit and $400 per event, with a maximum three days per event. In order to prevent encroachment upon established local businesses, no for-profit vendor may reserve County property more than three times per calendar year.
Under current guidelines, a group may only reserve the facility as a non-profit if it has received sponsorship through a local church.