Wharton County Judge Philip Spenrath will get a $7,500 grant supplement in addition to a pay raise next year, based on the proposed budget county commissioners will vote upon Monday.

Paying out the dollars, left over from Hurricane Harvey relief, was County Auditor Barbara Starling’s idea, according to what Spenrath told commissioners.

Administrative Assistant Joyce Ferrell would also receive temporary pay hikes if the plan is approved.

“I approached the judge (four months ago) and told him we have all of these new grants, is there any way I can get some extra help. Can we (create) a grant accountant?” Starling said.

The drawback, however, would be that once FEMA funds are exhausted, she would have to terminate the grant accountant position, although the workload would remain the same.

“My job would still be adding extra hours in order to process all these grants,” Starling said. “Instead of hiring a grant accountant, I want to pay a grant supplement because of all the extra work we are having to do. (Wharton County has) already received (the money). It’s (for) administrative costs – nothing else.”

The $98,000 would also pay for up to two years of grant supplements to auditor’s office staff.

Spenrath said the funds are not coming from local taxpayers.

“When Barbara Starling came to me four months ago, I didn’t respond. She came again come budget time to consider it,” Spenrath said. “You voted yourself a pay raise, I can now hear people say, but I’m not pushing this. She took it upon herself, and it was all out in the open during a budget workshop. When we vote on it, it will be part of the budget.”

Spenrath plans to abstain from that vote, but not the budget.

“No one is being cheated or denied,” Spenrath said.

Rusty Graves told county leaders that while he served as commissioner from July 2019 to March 2020 and later as the drainage supervisor, there were no additional funds or extra benefits.

He reminded commissioners that Precinct 2 also operates a recycling center and employees didn’t get any “stipends” for that like he said administrators are likely to be receiving.

“Somehow money was found to get these stipends, and there are a lot of upset people,” Graves said.

It was a standing room only crowd during the Aug. 23 meeting. There were elected officials who represented justice of the peace, elections, information technology and the constable’s office.

Monica Martin, 60, heads the county’s Permits & Inspections Department, and spoke to commissioners. She has worked with the county 37 years and has been head of the department since 2000. In 21 years, Martin has received one stipend.

Martin said she understands the administrative end of what Starling presented to Spenrath. She didn’t have issues with that.

While she lauded Ferrell’s efforts working with grants, Martin said.

“But, I am here for some of the other employees ... I would like to challenge this court to look at every budget, and every employee and what he/she does for this county.”

Martin added “I’m telling you the morale of this county … It’s almost like it’s an ‘out for me’ is what it has turned to.”

A public hearing is 9:30 a.m. Monday, Sept. 13. Following the hearing, commissioners court will vote to adopt the 2022 budget and no new revenue tax rate ($.42 per $100 valuation).

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