PALO PINTO — County commissioners on Monday rejected the proposed budget of the Palo Pinto Appraisal District, citing pay raises for its 14-member staff that Chief Appraiser Donna Epperson wrote into the annual spending plan.
The commissioners court is one of 21 taxing entities who contribute to the appraisal district, which sets values on the county's 32,706 taxable properties each year. The county, school districts, cities and other governments use those values to set annual tax rates.
The appraisal district must win a majority of its taxing entities for the budget to pass, Epperson said.
She also said the county was the first taxing entity she had heard to reject her $1.5 million proposal. The budget is 5 percent larger than last year's spending plan, which was $1.44 million.
Epperson said $18,000 in unfunded state mandates, including post cards the district now must mail to property owners, and her pay hikes comprise this year's budget increase.
As for the raises, Epperson said the district always raises pay one year after the county gives its employees raises. Her staff did not receive raises last year.
She also produced documents showing her proposed salaries on par with those in Erath and Young county appraisal districts, but significantly below those in Hood County. She did not include a comparison to the Parker County Appraisal District because that office both appraises properties and collects taxes.
Her own salary, which is proposed to rise from $92,900 to nearly $99,500, will still be below those being proposed for her counterparts in Jack, Erath, and Hood counties.
County Judge Shane Long said Wednesday he had not heard of an every-other-year pay raise agreement with the appraisal district in his three years in the position.
Long also said Epperson has presented comparisons with appraiser pay in other counties before.
This year's county budget includes 5-percent raises for employees and elected officials.
Epperson said she also has to guard against staff leaving for better pay in neighboring appraisal districts, including one this year.
"Also, (county offices) hire people at about what our people working here 10 years are just now making," she said.
Epperson's proposed pay hikes are both merit and cost-of-living raises, she said. The chief appraiser is slated for a 7 percent raise.
The court on Monday also emerged from a closed-door session to hire Computer Transition Services Inc. as the county's cyber security provider.
Company co-owner Michael Vaught told the court the firm will provide "infrastructure insurance," train county staff to avoid cyber attacks and assist if the county's computer network is breached.
He said the company is "one of a couple" of such firms certified by the state of Texas to handle cyber security and that all of its staff is certified by the Cyber Event and Threat Assessors, an industry training and cyber crime prevention firm.
Also Monday, Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Tourism Director Rose Jordan updated the court on plans the producers of a prequel to the Western, Yellowstone, are laying to film in Palo Pinto County.
"They'll be here in about a week," Jordan said of actors and film crews for "1883," which traces the Dutton family's exodus from Texas to Montana where the action in "Yellowstone" took place in the streaming series on Paramount Plus.
Jordan said 100 horses and 25 cowboys are on their way, with the human actors set to encamp in the area for two or three weeks.
"Most of (the scenes are) going to be shot in Palo Pinto at this time," she said.
Starring Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and veteran actor Sam Elliott, "1883" is expected to premiere on Dec. 19, according to CountryLiving.com, citing the Paramount Plus Instagram page.
Also Monday, the court learned during its monthly health department report, that COVID cases are on the rise in the county, at 3,857 positive cases identified.
Forty-four percent of residents older than 12 have had one dose of the two-step vaccine, and 38 percent are fully vaccinated. Of those older than 65 years, 64 percent are fully vaccinated