As Montgomery County budget workshops began for fiscal year 2022-23, cost-of-living adjustments and paying competitive salaries took center stage on the first day, Aug. 2.

County commissioners heard from Budget Officer Amanda Carter as well as several county department heads, including Sheriff Rand Henderson. Carter presented an updated version of the preliminary budget that was discussed at a July 26 commissioners court session, featuring a 5% increase in compensation due to costs of living compared to the previously presented 2.5% increase.

“We’ve moved [the cost-of-living] adjustment to a flat 5% rate following our discussion,” Carter said. “We do think this cost-of-living adjustment will let us get a lot closer [to competing counties].”

Carter told commissioners that with the 5% increase calculated, the county’s total salary expenditure would jump from $124.6 million to $132.8 million. Carter also estimated about $900,000 would go into the full implementation of the county’s new County Court at Law 6, impacting revenues.

Another expense increase Carter highlighted was a cost increase in fuel. The county’s preliminary fuel budget, which the budget office directly controls, is projected to reach $2.7 million in FY 2022-23, an approximate increase of 53% from the FY 2021-22 adopted budget of $1.8 million.

Carter had previously noted increases in fuel costs as one of the budget funding factors at an April 26 meeting to set the workshop calendar.

Competitive salary targets

Several department heads highlighted competing with other governments and the private sector as reasons for position and salary requests. Kathryn Pinneri, director of the county’s forensic services department, said due to competition from employers, such as the city of San Antonio, the department was underpaid compared to others in Texas.

“I can’t compete; I’ve had two people turn me down already,” Pinneri said. “There’s probably 20 openings in Texas alone.”

Commissioners agreed to hear increases to several forensic services positions from the FY 2021-22 budget at a future commissioners court meeting, which would allow Pinneri to increase salaries earlier than Oct. 1, when FY 2022-23 begins.

Henderson also said he faces hiring competition from both inside and outside the county, pointing out a cadet in the Conroe Police Department makes the same salary as some patrol deputies in the sheriff’s office. Conroe Police Department cadets make a salary of $53,771, according to the city’s salary schedule, while the lowest pay for a patrol deputy with two years of experience in the sheriff’s office was $51,209, per the county’s 2022 salary schedule.

“The 5% across the board is phenomenal. I can’t thank you all enough for that, but we still aren’t competitive,” Henderson said. “We are very pleased with what has happened this year, but we have got to adjust the schedule next year.”

Carter said with the 5% increase, the deputy pay would increase to $53,788. Henderson confirmed “several” officers approved for the sheriff’s office instead went to the Conroe Police Department.

Following a request from Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack, the county’s Human Resources Director Dodi Shaw confirmed a salary study was in progress to evaluate the county’s compensation, but due to “unexpected” results, she was waiting for an update.

County budget workshops will continue at 9 a.m. Aug. 3 and can be live streamed at the county website.