Proposed Smith County budget meeting yields little attendance

Published on Monday, 11 August 2014 21:42 - Written by Adam Russell

Smith County residents show relative indifference to a proposed budget that would raise the property tax rate slightly and increase funding for roads, employee positions and benefits.

Three Smith County residents attended the commissioners’ public hearing about the budget Monday evening. Two spoke.

The meeting was set to give Smith County residents a chance to voice concerns or raise questions about 2015 revenues and expenditures.

County Judge Joel Baker’s $83 million 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.

It also 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 said the property tax increase would be dedicated each year to the county road project fund. It represents about $940,000 in revenue. The transfer and property tax increase would give the Road and Bridge Department about $3 million in funding for 2015 compared to last year.

Resident Michelle Boyd addressed the court to request cooperation between the city and county to continue developing services to provide transportation for rural and urban residents, especially those with disabilities.

Ms. Boyd, the career path manager at East Texas Lighthouse for the Blind, is visually impaired and said both the city and county have an opportunity to cooperate and engage all stakeholders in developing creative options to provide efficient public transportation that meets the needs of all residents.

“For a while I think there was a disconnect. The customers get lost in the conversation,” she said. “If they could come together to be part of the conversation and include the dynamics of cost, efficiency and realism of goals, everyone would benefit.”

Former Smith County Chief Deputy Bobby Garmon applauded commissioners for their budgeting efforts.

“It’s a tough job, but I think you’ve done a good job not catering to any certain group or person,” he said. “

Commissioner Cary Nix said he expected more public comment on a budget that has implications for all residents, including the tax increase and how the county would approach transitioning into the new $35 million jail expansion approved by voters.

“It’s disappointing we don’t have more people turn out,” Nix said.

Today, the court will meet for a property tax rate hearing at 9:30 a.m. A budget workshop also is scheduled following regular meeting agenda items.

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

Meetings are open to the public for comment.