Presidio County Commissioners Court grapples with raising employee pay 

MARFA — At last week’s meeting of the Presidio County Commissioners Court, the commissioners deliberated for hours on how best to raise wages and retirement packages fairly on a limited budget. No immediate action was taken, but target dates were set toward setting and implementing pay raises across departments. 

To kick off the meeting, Roxanne Aldridge of the Texas County District Retirement System gave a presentation on implementing cost of living adjustments (COLA) for the county’s retirees. County Auditor Patty Roach offered a number of scenarios based on preliminary research — essentially, how big a bite out of the county budget the different packages would take. 

The commissioners took no action last Wednesday, awaiting further information and projections from Roach. Precinct 1 Commissioner Brenda Silva Bentley advised that it would be best to decide on retirement COLAs after raises for current employees were discussed and decided — the commissioners tentatively scheduled another presentation from Roach on November 9. “I’d rather look at more accurate numbers and see what’s available to us,” Bentley said. 

Later in the meeting, the commissioners discussed adopting a new salary schedule — essentially, raising wages for county employees across the board, rather than approving raises department by department. A committee of county employees was assembled with representatives from the Sheriff’s Department, Treasurer’s Office, Tax Assessor/Collector and other vital offices. 

Commissioner Bentley said that time was of the essence — she felt that the local cost of living had already outpaced wages and was affecting long-term residents’ ability to stay in their jobs and the county’s ability to attract new talent. “In terms of housing, I don’t know what people are going to do unless they already have something in place,” she said. 

Roach offered some advice to the commissioners based on comparisons she’d researched from government officials in neighboring Brewster County. By her estimation, county employees in Roads and Bridges and the Presidio County Jail made the closest to competitive wages, but there was room for improvement across the board. 

She advised looking into the county’s biggest employers — like the Big Bend Banks and Customs and Border Protection — to compare salaries based on “skill sets” like accounting and secretarial work. Additionally, she felt it was important to distinguish between “senior” and “junior” employees on the proposed pay schedule. “It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to take a lot of work,” she cautioned. 

After the discussion of the new pay scale, Joel Nuñez of the Presidio County Sheriff’s Office (PSCO) gave a presentation about the dire state of turnover in his department and requested raises for officers and dispatch — the department decided on the dollar amount with input from the county auditor. 

Nuñez was concerned that competitive wages elsewhere — particularly in Customs and Border Protection — was skimming off potential PCSO employees. “We get them trained and certified, and they’re valuable, so they get recruited to other agencies and get paid more money,” he explained. “We wouldn’t be doing our jobs [as employers] without doing this for our employees.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Bentley expressed frustration that the sheriff’s office had come before Commissioners Court many times asking for raises and funding — she came prepared with research into wages across departments in the county and accompanying retention data. “My fear is we’re going to take too far a leap with this and leave everyone else behind,” she said. 

Her comments led to a heated back-and-forth between Bentley and Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez, who was also in attendance. Bentley suggested that high turnover in the PCSO was due to poor management and not because of low wages. Dominguez insisted that it was because of broader cultural attitudes. “That’s just our country right now –– nobody wants to work,” he said. 

County Judge Cinderela Guevara restored order in the court and clarified why the raises had been brought before the commissioners in the first place. She had brought the item because she regularly interacts with PCSO and Presidio County Jail employees and wanted to circumvent burnout. “This is not intended so that some people can stay behind and some can get ahead, that is not the intention at all,” she said. 

The commissioners ultimately took no action on the proposed PCSO raises. Instead, they set a target goal of December 14 for the committee to propose a new pay schedule so it could be adopted sometime in the new year. The timing of these conversations could prove tricky — Presidio County Commissioners Court will welcome two new faces come January. 

Precinct 2 will welcome Margarito Hernandez, who is running unopposed; Precinct 4 is contested this November between Garey Willbanks and David Beebe. Roach advised the commissioners on the limits of their ability to decide budgetary items in the aftermath of an election. “You can’t govern a future court’s decisions, but you can put in writing that it is your intent,” she explained.