aA presentation from the Texas Workforce Commission capped the Sept. 21 commissioner’s meeting.
Texas Workforce Solutions
Adrian Lopez from Texas Workforce Commission briefed Kerr County Commissioners on unemployment numbers tracked since last spring at the start of the COVID pandemic. Lopez said he’s among officials briefing all counties in Region 13.
He said unemployment was at historic lows pre-COVID; spiked March/April/May 2020, started to improve in June; and unemployment claims are steadily declining now.
He said in 2015-19 unemployment rates sat at about 3.5 percent; and in April-June increased to about 6 percent.
Compared to other rural counties, he said Kerr had about 3,600 people file for unemployment, but cautioned they are tracked by where they live, not where they were working, possibly in another county. So statistics differ depending on what industries are where (oil versus manufacturing, for example) and how they were/are functioning or under stress.
But half of Kerr’s unemployed also were ages 15-34; and their “educational attainment” if less than a high school diploma or GED made them vulnerable in jobs in retail trade, food and accommodations. Kerr hasn’t differed from many other counties, but some had an actual oil or mining crisis plus COVID.
Lopez said once those 3,600 people filed for unemployment, the TWC registered 2,245 for help. “We won’t know until about six months out, how many went back to work,” Lopez said
The TWC has jobs “posted” online for people to know there are still jobs out there. And each posting could be five actual job openings. Employers can call the TWC to be added to this list; and they do compare rural versus urban.
“It’s good news that things are moving the right direction,” he said, but some people who got up to $600 in “government enhancements” were unwilling to return to work.
Lopez said he’s asking county governments for their priorities; working with targeted occupations that pay more; and paying childcare subsidies for about 13,000 children so adults in 5,700 families can return to work.
TWC is gathering feedback now to form a draft report by December, to be finalized by February through AACOG, and submitted to the state in March.
County Grade/Step Schedule
Commissioners approved 5-0 the FY21 “Step and Grade” schedule that applies to county employees’ pay by their individual lengths of service.
County staffer Jennifer Doss reminded commissioners this remains the same as in FY20, and it’s taken into account in the FY21 budget.
Letz noted for FY21, some salaries “went up slightly” because of the longevity policy, but otherwise raises weren’t given.
Delay, General Election ballots
Tax Assessor-Collector and Elections Supervisor Bob Reeves reported a distant higher court decision from a case about Green Party candidates being left off a ballot now impacts Kerr County’s ballots.
Reeves said locally, Kerr ballots were already printed and he was awaiting shipment, but now they have to be reprinted with the addition of three Green Party names – at Kerr County’ expense, about $10,000 which he can cover, creating a shortfall already. But that delays mailing ballots to those who requested and are qualified to get them by mail.
The choke-point, Reeves said, is the timing of the court decision and there are only three Texas vendors who print and ship ballots for elections.
He was hoping to send out ballots this week (Sept. 21-25), sent by Kerr’s vendor on Sept. 17, but that “old” shipment isn’t coming.
Reeves’ deadline was September’s end; and now he’s hoping for early October.
He said he wanted to give commissioners and County Judge Robert Kelly a “heads-up” in case they get phone calls from area residents asking about requested ballots.
2021 retiree medical program
Commissioners considered renewing the 2021 Retiree Medical Program, insurance benefits for retirees under a United Health Care plan.
Doss said renewal rates increased and are to be passed on to retirees, while the county contribution remains the same.
Commissioners approved this 5-0, with Jonathan Letz saying they should get some feedback from the retirees themselves before the court considers this again next year with other possible changes.
In answer to a court request for opinions and a recommendation on terminating the “Kerr County Declaration of a Local State of Disaster,” County Attorney Heather Stebbins told commissioners rescinding the declaration limits the county’s ability to get state funds for COVID-19 expenses.
She said while the local declaration is not required under the Texas Department of Emergency Management specifically, the county’s private paid attorney told her in order “to put Kerr County’s best foot forward” in future monetary requests to the state, he’d leave this declaration in place, adding “If it’s not burdensome, why not?”
And Stebbins said the recently approved “hazardous pay” could or could not stop if the declaration is ended.
Commissioners chose not to vote to rescind their official disaster declaration.
Event on Courthouse
Angela Graves came to commissioners to ask for a change in the approved plan for part of the “National Day of Prayer” to be held Saturday on the Courthouse grounds.
Organizers originally asked to be there at 9 a.m. for set-up, including the county’s chairs and public address system. On Monday, Graves asked the starting time be moved up to 8 a.m., so the event can begin at 9 a.m.
Commissioners pointed her to Maintenance Supervisor Shane Evans, and approved her request.
TAC Cybersecurity Course
Information Technology Director Bruce Motheral reminded them the entire county staff must take a Texas Association of Counties “Cybersecurity Course.”
All county staff must complete this updated training by next June; and commissioners voted 5-0 to approve their participation.
Lease, West Kerr Annex
Commissioners held a brief executive session at meetings’ end, and in open session identified the lease on their West Kerr Annex which expires the end of September. They agreed to renew the lease for two years, with options included for the following three years. Kelly said they have been told the monthly lease cost will rise by about $311.
The court voted unanimously to finalize the new lease agreement, pending approval of the County Attorney.
This was the first county commissioners meeting in months that didn’t include a COVID-19 update for the county from Emergency Coordinator William “Dub” Thomas.
Kelly recently received a “pass” from Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s office to step back from some COVID-19 emergency requirements such as masks, based on Kerr County’s continuing low confirmed virus numbers. But this is in place only as long as local virus cases remain below 20.
Citizens should note some entities such as Peterson Regional Medical Center facilities and Kerrville Independent School District, and some businesses, continue to require people entering their sites to wear masks.
Commissioner Don Harris reported on Saturday’s Household Hazardous Waste Collection, saying 165 vehicles came through in the first 30 minutes, and about 500 total. The county organized the event outside and the city inside the HCYEC Show Barn.
Also, citizen and write-in candidate for commissioner Konrad Wert asked several questions for the court to consider.
Are proposed salaries for all county employees, not just department heads, listed in the budget?
Where in the budget are the Volunteer Fire Department allotments listed?
Why are meetings always at 9 a.m.? (He had to take off work to attend this one.)
Does lifting COVID limitations change hazard pay for the Sheriff’s Office?
Commissioners said they would consider his questions outside this meeting.