Commissioners vote ‘no’ to raising property taxes
Houston County Courier
New veterans service officer named The Houston County Commissioners Court named a new veterans service officer and went on the record as favoring no change in the county tax rate during its regular meeting Tuesday, Aug. 10. In keeping with county personnel policy, the veterans service officer position was posted internally last week for current county employees. Two current employees applied, and both of those individuals were interviewed by the court in a closed executive session. After returning to open session, the court voted unanimously to hire Fred Newtz to fill the position. Newtz is a Vietnam veteran who served in the Air Force. His official starting date is still to be determined. He currently holds the position of infor-mation technology (IT) direc-tor, and will assume the duties of veterans service officer when a new IT director is hired. The Veterans Officer is a part time position which works 25 hours per week. County Tax Assessor-Col-lector Danette Millican presen-ted the Commissioners Court with the new certified tax roll and reviewed the county’s effective tax rate. The effective tax rate is a calculation of the rate that would provide a taxing unit with approximately the same amount of revenue it had the year before on properties taxed in both years. Since property values have decreased this year, the county’s effective tax rate has increased to just over 40 cents. However, the commissioners and judge unanimously voted to propose keeping the tax rate where it is, at 38.6 cents per $100 of property value. Based on a projected collection rate of 95 percent, that means the county would collect $185,000 less tax revenue in the new budget year. A final vote on the tax rate will be taken on Sept. 14. The court will conduct a public hearing on the proposed new budget and consider adopting it on Aug. 24. A copy of the proposed budget is available in the county clerk’s office, and is also posted on the official county website at www.co.houston.tx.us. County Judge Lonnie Hunt pointed out that the property tax rate would be more than six cents higher if not for the half-cent county sales tax. “In Texas, the county sales tax offsets the property tax,” he said. “As the sale tax goes up, the property tax comes down. Even though sales taxes have been down the last two years, this year’s sales tax adjustment on the effective tax rate is still minus 6.388 cents. The more sales tax we collect, the less burden on property owners.” The Court unanimously repealed a sales tax exemption on telecommunications services. The state sales tax already applies to these services, but state law exempts them from the half-cent county tax unless the Commissioners Court repeals the exemption. It was noted that of the seven counties adjoining Houston County, five have already repealed the exemption. Also during the meeting, Dr. Willia Wooten, who represents Houston County on the board of directors of the Burke Center, made a presentation to the court about the mental health and substance abuse services offered by the Burke Center. She thanked the court for its support of the programs, but expressed concern that state budget cuts could result in a reduction of the services offered. The court adopted a resolution urging the Legislature to continue funding for community based mental health services. In other business Tuesday, the Houston County Commissioners Court: • Authorized expenditure of $9,146 in federal grant funds to provide a security camera system for the Courthouse. • Heard a presentation from a representative of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards concerning recommended staffing levels for the county jail. • Approved a tower site lease agreement with East Texas Medical Center Emergency Medical Services whereby the county will utilize a new communications tower and pay a fee of $100 per month to cover the cost of electricity. • Approved the salary for Stevie Womack, a new part time employee in Road and Bridge Precinct 4. • Approved the salaries of two new part-time employees in the sheriff’s office. They are being funded by the Stop Violence Against Women grant program. Joy Arnal will work as a part-time clerk and Keith Davis will work as a part-time deputy.