Proposed budget would add 19 positions

Published on Tuesday, 5 August 2014 22:48 - Written by ADAM RUSSELL arussell@tylerpaper.com

An evening public hearing and two budget workshops remain as county commissioners continue hashing out a 2015 budget.

County Judge Joel Baker briefly discussed his proposed $83 million budget with commissioners, who posed a few questions regarding specific line items.

The proposed budget would add 19 new positions, including 12 jailers in preparation for phased entry into the downtown jail expansion, an across-the-board 1.8 percent cost-of-living increase for employees and move the county’s retirement rate to up to a 175 percent match from 125 percent.

The county had matched 200 percent before 2010, when it was cut back to 100 percent due to the poor economy.

The budget also calls for a one-time transfer of $2 million to a fund dedicated to major county road projects. Baker’s budget includes a property tax rate increase to 33 cents from 32.3564 cents per $100 valuation, or about six-tenths of 1 cent.

A tax bill on a $100,000 home would go up $6.44 to $330 compared to $323.56 per year.

The proposed budget would raise $2,118,985 more revenue from property taxes than last year, a 4.7 percent increase. More than $822,000 of that increase is from new property on tax rolls.

Baker said the increase would be dedicated each year to the county road project fund. It represents around $940,000 in revenue, which would give the Road and Bridge Department about $3 million in funding over last year.

Commissioners consider county roads their No. 1 priority and want to dedicate more funding for major rebuild projects.

Commissioners appear on board with dipping into the $24 million reserve but are split on the property tax rate increase. Commissioner Terry Phillips said he is a “no” on any rate increase. Commissioner Cary Nix voiced less emphatic opposition and Commissioner Jeff Warr said he would consider it.

“If we’re going to take the money out to put toward roads, I’m OK with that,” Warr said. “I might be able to get behind the tax increase. I’m worried about taking hits, but we’ve all talked about having a consistent source for road funding.”

Warr said he wants to ensure the increase would be dedicated to roads by the court officially and has questions about several line items including pay scales for positions within the budget.

Commissioner JoAnn Hampton said she would like to see a greater property tax rate increase to put even more money toward roads and to fund some budget requests by Sheriff Larry Smith and other departments she considers needs.

“I still think there is wiggle room, but I’d like to see more of a tax increase to take care of necessities,” she said. “There are a few things we need to take care of and make sure there’s money to take care of it.”

The court approved accepting a $130,000 federal grant procured by the Andrews Center to fund two Crisis Intervention Team officers for the Sheriff’s Office. But court members are still trying to find about $40,000 in the budget for two vehicles to accommodate the new positions.

The evening public hearing regarding the budget is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday inside the R.B. Hubbard Center, 304 E. Ferguson St. in Tyler. On Tuesday and Aug. 19, the court will meet for a property tax rate hearing following its 9:30 a.m. regular meeting.

On Aug. 26, the court is scheduled to vote on the budget and property tax rate. Three votes are necessary to approve both actions.

“At this phase (the budget is) still evolving,” Baker said. “It’s still a moving target and I expect certain things to be moved around.”