Court discusses amendments to reserve fund, infrastructure
Smith County commissioners discussed two long-range plans to improve its "rainy day" fund and county infrastructure during its Tuesday meeting.
Two commissioners and County Judge Joel Baker discussed, but did not take action, regarding amendments to its reserve fund policy and county infrastructure planning, including long-range road plans. Commissioners JoAnn Hampton and Terry Phillips were not present.
During the budget process, court members and the county auditor suggested the county's policy of maintaining 12 percent of its budget within a reserve fund for emergencies and funding lags. Officials suggested the reserve policy should be amended to more than double the amount -- 25 percent of its annual budget.
Approval would increase the fund to about $17 million from around $8 million.
Auditor Ann Wilson, during budget workshops, explained that the county should hold enough money in reserve to cover 90 days of expenditures. She said a 90-day reserve would ensure the county had enough money to cover its expenditures between October -- when the new fiscal budget begins -- and January, when property tax payments typically begin coming in consistently.
"I've heard from former commissioners that between October and January they had a hard time paying bills sometimes," Commissioner Jeff Warr said.
Warr said the increased reserve will make the county's budget more immune to a natural disaster.
All the court members openly have supported doubling the reserve ratio policy. Members from the conservative political action committee Grassroots America -- We the People expressed concerns about how the increased reserve would be used.
Group vice president Ernie Clark, a former Tyler city manager, said during a budget workshop the court should make its intentions known regarding the reserve.
"If the county is going to hold a balance of tax dollars that significantly exceeds the amount required by your own policy for a reserve fund, we highly recommend you tell taxpayers what your plans are for the funds," he said.
Clark said the group would not support using the funds for a state highway project, a downtown parking garage, to support a convention center/arena venue or purchase more county property.
The item likely will be placed on the Sept. 11 agenda.
Another item likely to come up later involves the county's long-term plans for its 1,200 miles of roads.
Baker said the county needs to move forward with its capital improvement program, which includes improvements to facilities and roads.
Warr, who is the court's liaison to the county's Road and Bridge Department, said traffic-counting equipment should be considered for lease or purchase in order to first establish which roads warrant major investment.
In the past, the county classified each road based on its condition and daily traffic. The county has implemented a "maintenance only" schedule, which includes patching potholes for the past three years.
Warr said he is interested in studying traffic patterns on major arterial roads, gathering public input through open meetings and formulating a plan to reduce congestion and improve county roads.
"I'd like to get some general numbers, hold some public hearings and begin rolling out a plan for (summer) 2013," he told court members.