Dallas County elected officials won’t be getting raises next year after all. After citizens slammed the planned pay hikes on Tuesday, commissioners court unanimously voted down salary increases for county officials, including themselves.
“In this time, when much of our population has lost jobs and income sources, approving a salary increase for elected officials who have already a comfortable income that has had no interruption is unconscionable,” local grassroots activist Gail Capps told commissioners during public comments.
Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting agenda included a proposed 2 percent salary increase for County Judge Clay Jenkins, whose current salary is over $206,000, as well as the county’s commissioners, sheriff, county clerk, district clerk, treasurer, tax assessor-collector, justices of the peace, and constables.
Commissioners currently make just over $170,000 a year, plus approximately $9,000 in car expense allowances, though Commissioner Elba Garcia said she has never taken the salary.
Commissioner John Wiley Price moved to amend the proposal to a 0 percent increase; Commissioner Theresa Daniel seconded Price’s motion. Daniel said she had planned to support the increases but decided she couldn’t vote for her own raise while so many Dallas families are suffering economic hardship.
During the Chinese coronavirus outbreak, residents have struggled under months of local and state government-ordered shutdowns, which were originally billed as “15 days to slow the spread” of COVID-19. The area’s unemployment rate at the end of June was 9 percent—down from a high of 13 percent in April, but still more than double the jobless rate at the same time last year.
All of the citizens who spoke during public comments opposed the pay raises.
“I can’t emphasize enough how arrogant it is to think that you all deserve a pay raise while the rest of Dallas County is suffering so much because of your terrible COVID-19 policies,” said resident Liz Biesel. “Are Dallas County public employees more valuable or more important than small, private business employees?”
“I think it’s irresponsible to suggest a pay increase,” a local volunteer career coach told commissioners. “We’re all tightening our budgets; we’re all taking pay cuts, or many of us are. It seems inappropriate and insensitive.”
“I ask that you listen to the citizens,” said Vicky Little, adding that giving raises to county officials while many local businesses are shut down would be “highly irresponsible.”
“It shouldn’t have even been under consideration,” said another citizen.
Commissioner J.J. Koch, the lone Republican on the court, said he was glad Price, Daniel, and Garcia came around to the pro-taxpayer position of keeping elected officials’ pay flat.
“A sign of thoughtful leaders is to be able to change your mind,” Koch said in his regular post-meeting message to constituents.
Commissioners also gave preliminary approval on Tuesday to the no-new-revenue tax rate, which leaves citizens’ property tax bills largely unchanged from last year, on average.
“I really had hoped that we could get a 1 percent cut—and there’s still time for this,” Koch said. “The taxpayers deserve their money back. It’s not ours.”
As county officials across Texas finalize budgets for the coming year and impose property tax levies on citizens to pay for them, it’s worth checking whether these elected representatives are giving themselves more money while their constituents struggle.