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Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - August 2010
Copyright 2010 - Polk County Publishing Company

 

Judge lays out $25.5M county budget
Polk County Enterprise

BY VALERIE REDDELL
Editor
polknews@gmail.com

LIVINGSTON — County Judge John Thompson presented the proposed budget for the 2011 fiscal year to County Commissioners Tuesday with no merit or cost of living raises for county employees, no new discretionary funding and no capital expenditures for county departments. What the budget does include is increases in some areas that county officials have little control over: group health insurance, premium increases in property, auto and liability insurance and payments into a trust fund for retiree health insurance. The proposed budget also includes funding to operate the Judicial Center and expanded jail operations when those projects are complete next summer. Tax Assessor-Collector Marion A. “Bid” Smith informed commissioners that the effective tax rate for the 2009-2010 fiscal year at 59.79 cents per $100 in value and the rollback rate was 66.28 cents. Texas law defines the rollback rate as the tax rate that would be needed to raise 8 percent more operating funds than the taxing unit levied in the preceding year. The effective tax rate is calculated to inform the public of the tax rate needed to generate the same revenue as the previous year, using the current year’s values. Commissioners will hold public hearings on the proposed tax rate at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 24 and at 4 p.m. Sept. 14. A public hearing on the budget and a vote to adopt the budget will be held at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 28. Commissioners will vote to set the tax rate at 10 a.m. Sept. 28. The proposed budget will be filed with the County Clerk and available for public inspection on Aug. 16. The proposal does not create any new positions on the county payroll, except for additional jailers which will be needed once the jail expansion is completed. The budget does shift $21,000 in salary expenses for a 4-H coordinator position with the county extension office after Texas A&M University opted to cut funding for the position to meet a 5 percent budget mandated for all state agencies. More than 800 Polk County children participate in 4-H activities. During discussions on eliminating all merit raises, Pct. 1 Commissioner Bob Willis suggested the decision should be left up to the elected official or department head if funds were available in the departmental budget. “If a department head saves money in one area and they have an employee that quits and they end up with a surplus for salaries, they should be able to give a merit raise out of that money,” Willis said. “It’s not new money.” Thompson countered that would give employees in larger departments a greater chance of receiving a merit raise than smaller departments. “Would you support moving money out of the fund balance to allow for smaller departments to give merit raises?” Thompson asked. Willis said he would. “I still think in the eyes of the public this is not the time to be giving raises,” Thompson said. “We voted against (the Polk Central Appraisal District) because it gave employees raises.” “We didn’t have correct information at that time either. We were led to believe our value was going to be quite a bit less from the CAD at the time we made that vote,” Willis answered. “I hate to sit here and tell the sheriff he can’t do such and such if it’s his money and we’ve given it to him … if he wants to spend it on equipment or raises it ought to be his call,” Willis said. “It’s not his money,” Thompson said. Willis also suggested the county launch a pilot program to collect unpaid fines for Justice of the Peace courts. Court fines and fees are down $170,750 for the year, according to county officials. Willis suggested commissioners allocate an additional $10,000 to the Pct. 1 Constable and have him work full time to collect unpaid fines. If after 12 months, collections do not exceed the $10,000, the salary would go back down. Commissioners asked Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace Darrell Longino to speak to the issue of collection efforts. As of July 16, Longino said there was $848,585 in outstanding fines. “Some people have never appeared in court, some have pleaded and absconded without paying,” Longino said. He would like to see more people appear in court to answer charges. If they are unable to pay, JPs can consider reducing the fine or requiring community service. Currently the county contracts with the Texas Department of Public Safety to prevent those who have failed to appear in court from renewing their driver’s license. The JP courts also use a collection agency to attempt to get fines paid. The statewide criminal database does not allow Class C misdemeanors to be entered, but records are maintained by local agencies. Longino said many of the misdemeanor theft and issuance of bad check charges are filed against “our neighbors that are attracted to local businesses like Wal- Mart. Then they go back across the river and hid with impunity,” Longino said. “It doesn’t take much for a constable to go out and grab them and bring them back. If they have to sit there in my office, they keep the phone lines hot calling friends and relatives to bring them the money so they don’t have to go to jail.” Sheriff Kenneth Hammack told commissioners that his department houses many inmates who choose to simply “lay-out” the fines by serving jail time. He added that many deputies would be willing to volunteer for overtime to arrest suspects with unpaid fines. “Many of them take extra jobs outside the county to supplement their income and they’d rather work here,”

 

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