*To watch the full recording of the meeting on SWARK.Today, click here.
By Rick Kennedy, updated Friday 1:15 pm
As real-life civic lessons go, the employees and citizens of Hempstead County received such Thursday night as the annual measure to approve $500 Christmas bonuses passed 6-2-1, but essentially failed since a “supermajority” of votes are required to authorize county spending.
Afterwards, Hempstead County Judge Haskell Morse said, “The required supermajority would have been eight votes of 11; the vote came in as 6-2-1, which is not the needed supermajority.”
Morse said that as a consequence, Hempstead County employees would not see the $500 bonus reflected on their next paychecks; the past, Morse said, the bonuses would be issued in time for annual “Black Friday” sales, which typically happen after Thanksgiving. The actual ordinance, one of three items on the Quorum Court’s agenda on Thursday night, was a “Transfer and Appropriation” measure, meant to authorize the transfer of $11,000 from the county’s General Fund to two salary categories, including $10,500 to the Sheriff’s salaries and $500 to the Coroner.
The measure also would have moved $911 from the General Fund to respective Social Security categories for both the Sheriff and Coroner.
During the discussion, it was stated that those two County departments did not have enough money budgeted for the Christmas bonuses already, thus the needed transfer of the funds.
At one point, Justice Lynn Montgomery said “We might want to rethink this; we might want to think about next year. You cannot spend what you don’t have.”
Justice David Clayton, the sponsor of the ordinance, said “We will worry about next year, next year.”
Montgomery said, “Well, I can’t vote for this; I won’t vote against this.” Montgomery’s vote was ultimately called as “Present,” in effect, an abstention.
In a statement Friday afternoon, Morse cited Justice Ed Darling and Justice Doris Brown as the two “No” votes, while Montgomery voted “Present.”
According to photographs and available video coverage, two Justices, Cherry Stewart and Keith Steed, were not physically present at the meeting. No announcement or explanation was given for their absences. The two other financial measures on the agenda fared better.
There was the annual Levy of Taxes, authorizing the collection of Real and Personal taxes for the year 2019. The Levy covers both Hempstead County and all of its other governmental entities, including cities, towns, and school districts.
As has been the case the past few years, the levy passed with little discussion, and it was announced that all were at the same rate as last year.
The third measure was another annual “transfer and appropriation” ordinance for the Sheriff’s Voluntary tax fund, which citizens voluntarily “tax themselves” extra dollars dedicated for county law enforcement salaries. As with other transfer ordinances, the measure authorizes movement of the funds from one budget category to another, this time being Sheriff’s salaries.
Sheriff James Singleton said that approximately $16,000 had been collected from the “Voluntary Tax” this year, and he explained disbursements based on longevity and service in the department. The voluntary tax fund was passed by Hempstead voters three years ago to the Hempstead County Sheriff’s Department for deputy compensation.
Montgomery asked the Sheriff about himself; Singleton replied “I don’t get a thing, nothing.”
As both the Sheriff and Tax Collector, Singleton does receive an annual salary at $44,800, making him one of the higher paid county officers. The other salaries for the countywide elected public positions are: Hempstead County Clerk, $39,000; Circuit Clerk, $39,000; County Treasurer, $39,000; and County Assessor, $39,000.
In other Quorum Court news from Thursday night, McCaskill Mayor Marion Hoosier also approached the Justices regarding financial matters, requesting a meeting with the county’s budget committee on behalf of a committee of Hempstead small town mayors.
Hoosier noted that small towns in Hempstead County, outside of Hope, neither have funds or large tax bases or retail outlets, but have a number of needs that require funding. Justice Ed Darling, who heads the county’s budget committee, agreed to meet with the small-town mayors about their concerns.
The complete list of taxes to be levied for 2018 (to be collected in 2019) includes:
Hempstead County Real and Personal
County General (4.1), County Road (1.2) County Library (1.0)
School Districts Real And Personal
Hope School District No. 1-A (34.7) Blevins School District No. 2 (31.3) Spring Hill School District No. 10 (41.8) Saratoga School District No. 11 (34.0) Nashville School District No. 1-B (31.7) Emmet School District No. 13 (31.3) Texarkana School District No.7 (38.9)
Municipalities Real And Personal
City of Hope (5.0), City of Hope, Fireman’s Pension (1.0) City of Fulton (5.0) City of Oakhaven (5.0) City of Blevins (3.1) City of Mccaskill (5.0) City of Ozan (Blevins) (2.6) City of Ozan (Saratoga) (2.6) City of Washington (5.0) City of Emmet (5.0) City of Patmos (1.6) City of Perrytown (5.0) City of Mcnab (4.0)