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GALVESTON, Texas After getting a small lump of coal in their retirement stocking in September, county employees were given a bit of a holiday present a couple of weeks early when county commissioners reversed an earlier decision to cut how much the county contributes to the employee retirement plan.

Three months ago as part of an overall plan to trim $16 million from the county budget, commissioners approved decreasing the county s contribution to the retirement plan by 25 percent. Before this year s budget, the county paid $2 for every $1 a county employee contributed to the pension plan.

Citing a budget crunch, commissioners lowered that contribution to $1.50 for each $1 contributed by county employees, which was to result in a savings of about $1.8 million, County Budget Director Ron Shelby said.

Last week, commissioners voted to re-establish the $2 to $1 contribution level.

County Judge Jim Yarbrough said the county s fund balances were better than expected, and the money now was available to reinstate the increased contribution levels for the county retirement plans.

A fund balance is essentially unspent tax dollars that result in a savings of what was budgeted for a particular department or project.

Yarbrough said the decrease in contributions to the retirement plans was one of the toughest budget decisions the court had to make during the summer.

Incoming County Judge Mark Henry had pledged to find a way to reinstate the higher contribution levels when he takes office next year.

County Commissioner Ken Clark, also a supporter of the higher retirement plan contributions, worried that using dollars from fund balances was not the best way to go.

I would rather we find the money through spending cuts and not taking money from our savings account, Clark said.

How the contributions are paid for can be decided or changed once the commissioners court changes in January, Yarbrough said. But Wednesday was the deadline to tell the retirement system that the contribution level was changing.

Henry said he would be looking for ways to make budget cuts to pay for the retirement contributions once he takes office next month.

This story was brought to you thanks to khou.com s partnership with The Galveston County Daily News.

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