KINGWOOD — Preston commissioners have lifted a hiring freeze imposed April 1 but delayed lifting a ban on “nonessential” spending.
The vote was taken at Tuesday evening’s meeting. When the bans were imposed, Commissioners Dave Price, Don Smith and Samantha Stone cited the impact of COVID-19 and lower tax collections as the reason.
They had no figures Tuesday to indicate the status of collections. When asked, County Administrator Kathy Mace said it is too early to know if the county ended the fiscal year June 30 in better financial shape than expected.
The vote was 3-0 to lift the hiring freeze. Smith said he was uncomfortable with lifting restrictions on nonessential expenses until after the July 15 deadline set by the governor for people to pay their taxes.
“Most people would tell you I am a very frugal person,” Smith said. “We still need emergency funds. We don’t need to be spending money where it is not needed. Nonessential means it is not needed … I just want to visit this later. I am very concerned about this.”
Stone said office holders should never be wasting money and most come before the commission before making big purchases.
“I feel like we’re not doing anything by keeping that freeze on,” she said.
She wanted “to roll the dice and see how things go.,” noting positions were in the budget.
Price suggested a compromise: Leaving the freeze on nonessentials in place and discussing it again in a couple weeks. Stone and Smith agreed without a motion being made to that effect.
Stone said the hiring freeze put a strain on county offices. Assessor Connie Ervin’s request to fill a vacancy was recently refused.
“We have learned that we could do with less than in the past,” Stone said.
County Clerk Linda Huggins asked commissioners to consider raises for county employees. Ervin said it’s because of the work her office has done with taxes that the budget is in good shape.
Asked if they would consider putting the $23,057 cut from the health department back into the current budget, Mace said that’s something that request and others could be considered when final figures are in for the end of the 2019-2020 fiscal year. The commission also cut $27,000 total — $2,250 from each — from each county volunteer fire departments.