A Conversation with County Judge Candidate Jay Knight

DAYTON, August 12, 2013 - Mr. Jay Knight of Dayton has announced his intentions to seek the Office of County Judge in the upcoming primary election. i-dineout.com contacted Mr. Knight and a meeting was arranged. In preparation for the meeting we prepared a few questions in advance concerning Liberty County Government and Mr. Knight took his time to graciously answer each of them.  The article below is presented as a dialogue between i-dineout.com and Mr. Knight. We asked the questions and Mr. Knight answered them. See the dialogue below.

Question 1. After the budget is adopted, would you vote to create new positions that will have to be budgeted in further budgets when Judge McNair was asking departments to cut their budgets by 10%?

Answer: No, I would not as this would be a budget increase after the fact and not in compliance with the initial request. You should not create a position after the budget is adopted unless you are willing and able to delete an existing position in your budget that is at the same or lower pay scale. To do such an action, I would feel, would be breaking the public’s trust.

Question 2. Would you vote for allowing Commissioners to give raises to their employees while other departments were not allowed to give their employees raises using the same reasoning that the Commissioners used to justify their actions?

Answer: Each Precinct Commissioner’s budget is set when that fiscal year budget is adopted. Should a Commissioner lose an employee through attrition or by some other means, and that lost employee’s salary still exists in their respective budget, each Commissioner may exercise the option to use that particular salary to give raises to their other employees with Commissioner’s Court approval. The problem with this particular practice is that it sets a precedence for future budgets with that or those salaries being locked in at a new rate. Now, with that being said, and with consideration of our current fund balance and in all fairness to the other County employees, I couldn’t vote in favor of this action. I would rather see that particular budgeted item returned to the fund balance in some manner to be used by the County as a whole.

Question 3. When McNair took office, the fund balance was over 18 million dollars. Each year the fund balance has been used to allow for deficit spending at 3 million plus per year. How as County Judge do you plan to control this deficit spending?

Answer: First of all, I’m not in favor of any kind of tax increase. Higher taxes do not spirit economic growth and you simply cannot tax your way out, nor borrow your way out of debt. This lingering revenue problem didn’t occur overnight and it’s not going away overnight. You will never hear me say that I inherited this problem. What you will hear me say is: “Let’s work together to fix it”.

Our County employees are our greatest asset. They know their jobs and what it takes to expedite their jobs in both a timely and fiduciary conscious manner. Although, everyone involved in our County government and services must become more efficient at using what we currently have to work with, I think that if these folks involved are better informed of our economic situation, and believe that they are a part of the solution to an economic problem, then they will work together and diligently for options to alleviate this problem.
But, it’s going to take planning to correct it and it’s going to take the County officials all working together as a team to help formulate a budget that is both compliant and feasible.

These are just a few of the methods that I believe will help control the deficit spending:

1. Hold Budget Workshops throughout the fiscal year with all County departments. As soon as the new budget is adopted, start the workshops. Don’t wait until we receive our revenue projections from the Central Appraisal District’s certified tax roll in July and then try to rush through with a budget that doesn’t have adequate input from the ultimate user groups. This way everyone involved is on the team, in the know and can give hard number information for budget adjustments when the crunch time gets here. This is total transparency of the budget is called planning and one thing that I have learned over the years is that “failing to plan is planning to fail“.

2. Adopt a budget and stick to it. I realize that emergencies do occur, and when the safety and security of the public is involved, it cannot be ignored. But, there is one item that is detrimental to the goal of an adopted budget and that is the “budget amendment”. Each month, it seems, there is the propensity for departments to come to the Commissioner’s Court and ask for more funding. While these requests may be viable or even necessary, as in an emergency situation, it is still a consideration of using funds that weren’t previously adopted in the budget and it could have an effect on the fund balance. Again, good long range budget planning and frequent workshops
can help in alleviating this practice.

3. Looking for ways to cut expenditures wherever possible and becoming more efficient at working with less. We all simply have to learn to say “No” to more spending after the budget is adopted whenever is possible. Smart planning can help alleviate this.

4. Aggressively look and apply for Federal, State and Private Sector grants that will help in funding our capital expenditures such as Sheriff’s Department equipment, County communication equipment, County Fire Department equipment, Training, etc.

5. Set a goal for where we want the fund balance to be in 10, 20 or more years and make a plan to reach that goal. By asking everyone in County government to help in controlling spending and showing them the outcome of their endeavors, this goal can ultimately be reached.

Question 4. The employees and retirees have really suffered this year because of the poor health insurance approved by Commissioners Court. The people who work the hardest and choose to stay with Liberty County because of their benefits are definitely suffering. The poor economy and high insurance premiums have added stress and poor morale for the employees who keep our County functioning. The worry about having enough money to go to the doctor and have anything done, even prescriptions…so what do they do? How do you plan to address this problem if you are elected?

Answer: The health insurance plan was reduced out of necessity due to budgetary constraints. I believe it had gotten to the point that it was so expensive (approximately 7.2 million in the 2011 budget) that something had to be done or the County employees would almost have to choose between a “Cadillac” healthcare program or getting a paycheck. When you are looking at an approximately 30 million dollar budget and 10 to 11 million dollars of that is employee salaries, plus figure in the healthcare number, it doesn’t take long to realize that there is not much left for the necessary County services.

The current healthcare plan, while not as resplendent as the previous plan, seems to be settling in and it will be necessary to look at the end of year numbers to analyze thenew plan before passing judgment. Barring any exorbitant claims that may be paid by the County, it should reflect a savings of around 1 million dollars from the previous year.

There are several pros and cons to be considered with the future of our County healthcare plan. One pro is that we have a very well respected company that shops for our plan throughout the year called Gallagher Benefit Services. I am familiar with this company as it is the same one that worked at procuring coverage for the City of Dayton’s Health Insurance Plan during my time on the Dayton City Council and they still provide this service to the City of Dayton. Their purpose is to research throughout the year to find the plan that best suits the needs of the County and then presents this plan to the County’s insurance review committee for scrutiny and ultimately for approval by the Commissioner’s Court. Another pro, is that the deductible” amount for employees is now 3k with the County offering reimbursement for the first 1k paid by the employee. Also, with the Affordable Healthcare Act slowly going into affect, it will take time to see just what the outcome and costs of future plans will be. This may be considered a con at this time, but I’m hoping that it will be a checkmark in the pro column as time moves forward for all involved.

One other possibility is that the County may look at a healthcare package that is offered through the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) to see if this could be a money saving venture by joining their group insurance program.
The one thing that is of utmost importance is to continue to monitor the healthcare plan just as closely as we will monitor the budget, continue to not accept the low bid for insurance coverage but look for the best bid in coverage on behalf of our employees and keep our employees’ best interest in mind.

Question 5. Judge McNair and the Commissioners have pushed for their personal agendas by disregarding employees and the citizens of this County. How do you plan to serve the entire County and bring unity to County Government in Liberty County?

Answer: First, let me say that you will not hear me criticize any of our Elected Officials or County employees. Their jobs are tough ones and decisions must be made by them on a daily basis that will effect the future of our County for years to come. So, they should garner some respect and thanks from us all for their hard work and diligence.

Now, for the answer to your question: There are many ways to serve the entire county and bring unity to county government and we have heard them all from every politician since time began. “Open door policy, transparency in government, accountability, fairness and honesty to all“. These are all of the key words that we expect to hear and hope to get returned from our elected officials. Some other items that I could name now have already been covered in answers to the other questions such as budget workshops, etc. We could even have a weekly, monthly or quarterly update from the County Judge published in the local periodicals and websites so all could stay informed of what is going on. Maybe even a weekly radio show or “Coffee with the Judge” in the city of your choice. And, I am all for the afore mentioned because the County Judge is your County Judge and should be accessible by everyone.
But, there is one thing that this office could do to bring more service and unity to everyone in the County than any item listed in the preceding paragraph. There are two words that would mean more to every citizen, taxpayer, working man or woman, or to the children in our area. And, it is not a personal agenda…I have no personal agendas. What I have is a County Agenda and I call it Economic Development.

We live next door to the 14th largest economy in the world and it is a very diversified economy that is growing everyday. The good news is that this economic boon is coming in our direction and very rapidly so. This is a fortunate situation for all of Liberty County and the best opportunity we have had in many years. It is our chance to turn our economy around, get the tax burden off of the backs of the good folks of our County who have been saddled with this burden for years by bringing in new economic development and make Liberty County the best it can be.

But, it is going to take unity and teamwork on behalf of every Citizen, Elected Official, County Employee, City Council, City Employee, School District and Economic Development Council in our County to make this change come smoothly, yet at a pace that we can accept.

Out of the last 12 years of my life, I spent 9 of them as a member of the Dayton Community Development Corporation which two of those years were as the board President. So, I have hands on experience in working with our civic leaders and local government entities for bringing in new business to our area and I have seen the economic change that has occurred by facilitating this. The old saying in economic development is: “You bring in industry and retail will follow” and this is so true. But, what else will major economic development bring? How about new schools and new housing developments to serve the many people that will move to our County. New and improved infrastructure outside of our incorporated areas, better equipment and more personnel for our law enforcement and fire departments to improve our safety and security. And that’s just naming a few of the benefits. But, one thing I have learned during my years of working in economic development is that it takes a concerted effort of team work, communication and mutual respect by everyone involved to make it happen.

We all need to “think outside the box” a bit and understand that we are not just Liberty County with 4 distinct Precincts…we are all citizens in our County and we will all need to work together to cultivate this coming economic development where it benefits everyone within our County. This is how we will achieve unity within our County Government while serving our entire County, and this is how we will grow our economy to serve our growing needs.


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