EDITORIAL: Bad time for accidental pay raise

If there’s ever a right time for a McLennan County department head to accidentally hike his pay, this isn’t it. Homeowners are rankled over property appraisals and crying foul; the McLennan County Commissioners Court is preparing to enter the tedious, often contentious period of setting the budget and tax rate — typically a time of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth; and, finally, concerns over one commissioner’s forgetfulness in county affairs has spilled over into a public display of racially charged accusations of witch hunts and plots hatched behind closed doors.

Amidst all this, the court learned the county building maintenance director unwittingly gave himself a whopping $14,000 pay raise using a form that wasn’t caught by yet other county officials. Trib staffer Cassie L. Smith reports the matter came to light during department head reviews conducted before county commissioners begin budget discussions. The reviews no doubt give commissioners a strong idea of challenges and costs facing individual departments.

This review sure suggests an overhaul in how payroll forms are checked, even if they come from department heads.

County Judge Scott Felton is correct to advise against jumping to conclusions. (Forgetfulness? One might well raise the question here.) Yes, constituents and even other county employees are justified in wondering how a department head could accidentally give himself a $14,000 salary bump on a payroll form, then not notice some difference in his bank account over time. Yet the possibility exists. The department head may have gotten into a rush or become distracted while filling out the form, scribbling in $84,393 — the maximum amount he can make in that job — instead of his actual $70,000 salary. In any case, the errant department head reportedly has paid back to the county the $5,784 he thus far improperly received.

To us, it looks like another learning opportunity for the court. Skepticism about government at all levels has been on the ascent over the past decade — more often than not driven by Republicans — so it behooves the Republicans who actually run government to build in mechanisms that ensure accounting matters are promptly corrected when they go awry. While county administrators were right to conduct an immediate survey of other employees’ pay in the building maintenance department, it’s obvious that system-wide improvements are warranted to prevent other such accidents.

We look forward to seeing what sort of protocols the court can implement to catch payroll slipups. One doesn’t have to sit through too many county budget sessions each summer to recognize the need for commissioners and the county auditor to be on their toes, particularly with various department heads, some of them elected officials marching to their own drummers, all contributing to the budget process with varying levels of competence and very often pressing for more money than county taxpayers can provide. All involved might well keep in mind the reaction of one of our skeptical readers: “You can bet if I filled out my own tax appraisal, the county would catch my ‘mistake’ in a nanosecond.”

Source : http://www.wacotrib.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-bad-time-for-accidental-pay-raise/article_944bce83-ae4f-527d-b6c5-89c5aa77f38b.html

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