Saying they wanted to stay within the boundaries of the county’s pay structure, Matagorda County Commissioners rejected initial offers and voted in favor of counteroffers to a couple of positions within the county’s district attorney’s office during Monday’s meeting of Commissioner’s Court.
Matagorda County District Attorney Stephen Reis placed three items on the commissioner’s agenda dealing with positions within his department. Reis explained that the impending retirement of DA Chief Investigator Jeannette Bell after 40 years of service with the county made these changes necessary within the department.
Reis asked commissioners to approve an hourly rate of $33 for Ashley Orta and $29 for Justin Kirk.
Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald questioned why these two new hires would require such high rates for employment.
“These are large raises that are proposed here,” McDonald said. “We have to question why we would approve a 46 percent raise over what is set for this position for Mr. Kirk when he is just starting out with the county?
“And then we are asking for a 68 percent increase for someone who has just been with the county for 1-2 years,” McDonald said. “This just seems like a bit much for me. If Mrs. Bell was not retiring, we wouldn’t be talking about this kind of raise right now.”
Commissioners voted to offer less than what was brought to the agenda on both positions with the county. In the amended item, commissioners approved an hourly salary offer of $28 for Kirk and $29.50 for Orta.
“For me it is unconscionable to offer an hourly rate of $33 to a one-year employee when it has taken a 40-year employee that took that long to garner that kind of a pay rate with the county,” McDonald said.
Reis said he understood the county’s position on pay scales and agreed to take the new offers to the two and return to the court for any further discussion.
Reis pointed out that part of his justification for the salaries comes with their positions in the county and not their time with the county.
“In years past, we have tried to hire folks within the county and we were told because the salaries that we could pay were less than what they were currently making,” Reis said. “Currently with Justin Kirk, his salary with the Bay City Police Department is $28 dollars and some change so this is hardly a raise for him to where he currently is at.
“It becomes near impossible to hire someone who is qualified to do this job without paying them a salary that compares with what they can get elsewhere,” Reis said. “These offers are just attempting to stay competitive with outside agencies salaries. They will stay pretty busy and we expect a lot from them.”
Reis sought the hiring of Justin Kirk to the position of sexual assault investigator since Ashley Orta was being promoted up as Chief Investigator for the office.
Reis’ original request was for Kirk to be hired into that position at an hourly rate of $29, higher than the entry-level minimum.
Reis pointed to Kirk’s experience with the Bay City Police Department as to why he sought a higher pay rate for Kirk. Kirk has been with the Bay City Police Department since 2009 and is responsible for supervision of shift patrol officers and ensuring compliance with policy and procedures. He is also responsible for ensuring reports are accurate and properly submitted to the prosecutor’s office for review.
“He has been an exemplary officer with the Bay City Police Department and has the necessary skills and aptitude to perform the duties as the sexual assault investigator for this office,” Reis said. “He has shown an effectiveness to work well within his present agency as well as with officers from all other Matagorda County agencies.”
Orta joined the Matagorda County District Attorney’s office in 2018 after being employed by the Wharton County Sheriff’s Office and El Campo Police Department.
“Under the mentorship of Jeannette Bell, the chief investigator for this office, Ashley has learned courtroom procedures as well as the office-specific techniques of pretrial interviews and preparation,” Reis said.
Commissioner Bubba Frick questioned what the baseline salary for the Kirk’s proposed position was and was informed it was an hourly rate of $20.45. Orta currently makes an hourly rate of $27.45.
“I have concerns because we worked very diligently to work on the pay scale for county employees,” said Matagorda County Commissioner Kent Pollard. “We worked to try to bring our investigators and other employees at the sheriff’s office up to pay scale with our other investigators and they still are not making what Mrs. Orta is now making.”
Pollard pointed out that the average pay scale for investigators at the Matagorda County Sheriff’s office is $22-90 to $23.
“Some of those folks have years of experience also,” Pollard said. “We worked very diligently on the county pay scale to achieve what we did this past year and have harmony and happiness and I hate to destroy that. I think we need to look at this very closely.”