Employees Brace For Cuts

Retirement security is on the line for hundreds of former and current Smith County employees. Monday, the Commissioners Court approved a version of a budget that would cut out retirement benefits. It's left many current and former employees with an uncertain future.

"When you're in a position that this court is in to make difficult decision that face the financial future of this county, lives are going to be affected."

Those are the words of County Judge Becky Dempsey Monday, defending cuts in the county's proposed budget. The statements came during a meeting of the Commissioners Court, but the words have implications far beyond those walls.

One of the concerns is retirement benefits.

"Yeah they are going back on promises," said Smith County employee Ruby Franklin. "If they take (our benefits) away, this is one of the things they told us that we would have."

Franklin has been a civil clerk in Smith County for the past 15 years. She says it was the benefits that brought her to the county.

"I raised five children and when I was looking for a job I wanted one for with benefits," she said. "The pay wasn't that good but the benefits were, now they're going to take them away."

Retiree Nancy Braswell thought she had her future figured out. She worked for Smith County for 25 years. Now she's left looking for answers.

"When we were employees we worked in good faith and there was a promise made to us."

Braswell spent the last 18 years working as the County Auditor. Familiar with budgets, she believes this one is unfair.

"I know tough decisions are being made but you have to look at promises that are being made and there are other ways to address this by not affecting people right now."

These employees know they are against the current budget, what they don't know is what is in their future if it passes.

Ninety-five retirees currently receive insurance benefits from the county. Another 44 employees are eligible.

A special Commissioners Court meeting has been called for this Friday, where the court is expected to change the date of the public hearing on the matter.

Right now the proposed budget is expected to be finalized on September 27th.

Chris Gibson, reporting