Commissioners To Examine 2013 Budget
By ADAM RUSSELL
Smith County commissioners will begin looking at Smith County's 2013 budget today and where relatively unchanged funding will go to meet growing needs.
The court will discuss the 2013 budget after its regular 9:30 a.m. meeting concludes inside the Courthouse Annex Building, 200 E. Ferguson St., in Tyler.
County Auditor Ann Wilson said flat taxable values will mean another year of level revenues. Ms. Wilson said the county is hoping for better sales tax and fines and fee income over the summer as the county prepares its budget.
"This will be an overview (of the budget)," she said. "The tax base stayed the same, so spending will probably be status quo and where that money goes is something the commissioners will discuss."
The budget must be set before the next fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Departments and elected officials have submitted their wish lists, and the court will begin whittling them down to reality during the next three months.
There was relatively no opposition to the
$72.8 million budget and 1 cent increase to the county's property tax rate to 32.39 cents from 31.39 last year. The cent was added to pay for debt associated with the $35 million jail project approved by voters.
Approving a budget was "easy" compared to 2010, when the court approved a budget that decreased spending by 11 percent, or $7.8 million, increased property taxes 2.5 cents per $100 valuation, County Judge Joel Baker said after the 2011 budget process wrapped up.
Baker said the county is entering its annual process "on a stronger footing than last year" because of strict finance management, but commissioners will proceed with caution because of the struggling economy.
The court felt the ire of the public and its employees in 2010. Funding reductions meant 33 positions were either cut or left unfilled. Employee benefits were cut, and property owners faced a tax increase.
In 2011, the court faced relatively flat revenues but was able to address expenditures without a tax increase and little backlash from employees and elected officials.
Commissioner Jeff Warr said the county still faces challenges including finding a long-term solution to its employee insurance fund, which has struggled with solvency, and a rural road system facing a third year under a maintenance-only schedule.
The insurance fund remains a real concern, he said, but one the court has been working throughout the year to address. Infrastructure costs continue to rise, he said, which will make it difficult to fund major capital improvements. The county is growing and it must meet the needs of residents and businesses to sustain growth, he said.
Warr said the Road and Bridge Department has addressed road maintenance aggressively and actually reduced complaints. But the question of how to address the long-term road maintenance/improvement amid slow-to-no tax-base growth remains unanswered, he said.
"We took some hard licks a couple years ago and are in better shape now because of it," he said. "But Smith County is growing, and we're hoping that added tax base will help us keep up."