County judge’s paycheck to shrink

By Kristen Tribe | Published Saturday, August 23, 2014

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Almost all county employees will see a pay increase in fiscal year 2015 – all except for the county judge.

Under the proposed budget for fiscal year 2015, employees will receive a 3 percent increase in pay, but the judge’s position will see a $4,150 decrease.

The shift is the result of County Judge Glenn Hughes trying to keep the county in good standing with the state and keep the judge’s pay equal to commissioners’ without being tied to the state supplement.

He suggested in a July 31 meeting that the county no longer accept a $15,000 state stipend for the judge’s salary because it requires the judge to spend 40 percent of his time on judicial duties.

Hughes doesn’t think that’s possible, or necessary, since Wise County now has two county courts-at-law.

Although it had been previously discussed, Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance still had questions at a budget workshop this week.

“The way the county is structured now versus 15 or 20 years ago, there’s just no way a county judge can spend 40 percent of his time doing judicial duties,” Hughes said. “What’s happened, Harry, is it [could cause] problems … being legal. I’m afraid it’ll get the county in a situation with a lawsuit.”

Lamance asked if the next county judge could reconsider the issue. Auditor Ann McCuiston said he could, but no changes could be made until fiscal year 2016 once this year’s budget is approved.

“I’ve talked to several people, and I’ve done some research on this,” Hughes said. “Everybody I’ve talked to is in concurrence that they don’t feel comfortable putting their name on the dotted line.

“We’ve talked about Judge Bill (McElhaney) in the past, and in people that I’ve talked to, he would have been the closest to anyone to having done the 40 percent.”

Judges who accept the stipend must sign an affidavit stating that they did dedicate 40 percent of their time to judicial issues.

Lamance asked if McElhaney might have even been “a hair under.”

“If he was, I’d say it’s probably hard to do,” Lamance said.

McCuiston said McElhaney handled many mental commitments and filled in for Court-at-Law Judge Melton Cude.

“Do you think he actually made the 40 percent or even with that hard work, do you think he was under?” Lamance asked.

McCuiston said, “Knowing Judge Bill, he wouldn’t have signed it if he was under. He wouldn’t.”

Hughes said he doesn’t feel like he’s currently able to do 40 percent, and he doesn’t think the next judge will be able to, either.

“I don’t think there’s 40 percent out there, even if you wanted it,” he said.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said county judges in less populated counties sometimes have to help their county court-at-law judges, but it’s no longer necessary here.

“It will be a decrease in the judge’s salary, but it’s peace of mind,” Hughes said. “I didn’t feel like there’s 40 percent work out there.”

Instead of accepting the stipend, Hughes wants the county to pitch in and cover part of the difference, enough to bring the judge’s salary equal to that of commissioners.

In the proposed budget, the county judge and commissioners will make $77,250, but overall, the commissioners end up making more than the judge due to vehicle allowances.

The judge will receive a $14,000 vehicle allowance for a grand total of $91,250, while commissioners’ $16,000 vehicle allowance pushes them to $93,250.

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