Public hearing on tax rate, budget set today

Published on Monday, 19 August 2013 23:18 - Written by ADAM RUSSELL,

Public hearings regarding the Smith County budget and property tax rate are scheduled for today inside the Courthouse Annex Building, 200 E. Ferguson St. in Tyler.

The public is allowed to comment regarding the proposed property tax rate and budget.

A public hearing regarding the proposed property tax rate will begin at 9:30 a.m. while a hearing to discuss the proposed budget will begin at 5:30 p.m.

County Judge Joel Baker proposed maintaining the property tax rate of .323 cents per $100 valuation. The effective tax rate, the rate needed to bring in the same revenue as last year, is .321 cents per $100 valuation.

Maintaining the property tax rate would increase county revenue by more than $1 million with more than $580,000 coming from new property. Last year the court reduced its tax to reflect the effective rate.

Baker’s proposed budget would spend about $69.6 million on operating costs versus $66.2 million approved last year.

General fund spending would rise 3.81 percent within the proposed budget to meet current service demands.

County Auditor Ann Wilson said maintaining the property tax rate would have a minimal impact on average homeowners. The annual tax bill on the average Smith County home valued at $141,103 would be $456.56 versus $453.63 if the effective rate were adopted, a difference of $2.93.

Counties are required by law to hold a tax rate hearing when the effective tax rate is lower than the proposed rate.

The county’s budget will be open for discussion during a 5:30 p.m. meeting.

Baker said more money would be spent on essential services and improvements.

The budget would put about $900,000 more into the road department than last year, bringing its total funding to about $8 million. County commissioners hope to transition out of its three-year “maintenance only” program and address major road projects.

The Road and Bridge Department’s budget was more than $10 million in 2009, when the county addressed more than 80 miles of major road surface projects. The county has been patching potholes and focusing on preventative maintenance since.

Baker said the court would also address a $2.5 million-$4 million judicial system software upgrade with cash from its reserve. He said the county is using a 30-year old program and is in need of a new program to coordinate judicial system efforts.

The county is at a “impasse” with District Court Judge Carole Clark with regard to the amount of money requested to fund family court contract attorneys assigned in child protective cases, Baker said. The county budgeted $720,000, the same amount as 2013, though Judge Clark has requested more money. The District Court has gone $350,000 over its budgeted amount this year.

Judge Clark said the costs are reflective of the caseloads attorneys work and their statutory requirements while representing children. Baker said her court’s initial budget far exceeds counties of similar size.

Elected officials, except for county commissioners and Baker, could see a pay-raise of up to 10 percent within the budget. Ms. Wilson said the raises have a direct budget impact of less than $40,000.

Newly elected sheriff Larry Smith has requested more money for equipment and more than 60 new jailers to prepare for the transition into the 384-bed jail addition slated for completion in late 2014. Commissioners want Smith to wait until the next budget cycle before considering more staff.

The commissioners court will hold its final budget hearing at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 27. The court is expected to vote on the budget and ratify its property tax rate after the Aug. 27 hearing.