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Stories Added - July 2010
Copyright 2010 - Polk County Publishing Company
Judge: Gloomy forecast for 2011 county budget
Polk County Enterprise
BY VALERIE REDDELL
LIVINGSTON — Initial revenue projections for Polk County foretold “gloom and doom” County Judge John Thompson said during Tuesday’s session of Commissioner’s Court. “Revised estimates are still gloomy, but the doom is gone.” Thompson’s office is continuing to work on the fiscal year 2011 budget for the county but the draft is now “inside $100,000” of being balanced, Thompson said. The draft budget provides no salary increases for county employees and the only new positions will be six jailers that will be added when the jail expansion is complete. Construction Manager J.E. Kingham Construction Company expects to turn over the expanded facility by next June. “Practically everybody has taken a hit in this budget,” Thompson said. “I had four guys with guns in my office wanting money yesterday and I was the only one that wasn’t armed,” he added, referring to a budget meeting with law enforcement officers. There is still some uncertainty in the projections for property tax revenue, according to Thompson. “For the first time ever we won’t have a certified value by the July 25 deadline,” Thompson said. A large number of taxpayers have protested their latest valuations and hearings before the Appraisal Review Board are continuing for the next two weeks, according to County Tax Assessor-Collector Marion “Bid” Smith. Chief Appraiser Carolyn Allen notified officials of a preliminary total net value of $2,014,100,000 in early May, Smith said. Then in June the preliminary net value was adjusted to $2,391,024,675. Officials said they did not have an estimate of the value being contested. Thompson said his office is trying to be conservative in estimating what the certified value will be. In other revenue areas, Thompson told the commissioners sales tax collections for the year are down between $400,000 to $500,000 and county clerk fines and fees are down. Some fines and fees collected by the district clerk’s office are close to previous years. “We’ve still got a hole, but it’s not as big or as deep as we earlier expected,” Thompson said. “This is the second year employees will receive no increases. Our primary goal is no layoffs.” A budget workshop is set for Aug. 10. Commissioners heard from two people who spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, both urging the county to minimize spending. Kathie Freeman asked commissioners to reject the proposed budget for the Polk Central Appraisal District (CAD). Freeman cited recently published stories on the draft report from the Texas Comptroller’s Office Methods and Assistance Program review of the CAD that listed a number of areas that needed improvement. The CAD’s proposed budget also calls for a 2.5 percent salary increase for employees, according to Freeman. In presenting the budget to CAD directors, Freeman reported Chief Appraiser Allen said the CAD was “just keeping up with the county.” “In this economy, how do we justify giving raises?” Freeman said. “I don’t believe county employees are getting raises.” Freeman also questioned a $30,000 line item in the CAD budget for attorney fees. “Those fees are paid to defend the values, in addition to paying a salary that’s in the top 10 percent among county officials,” Freeman said. Freeman also read an email reportedly from a property owner who asked to remain anonymous. The email writer said in their dealings with the appraisal district, they found staff “unyielding, unprofessional and uncooperative,” and should be ineligible for a raise. Keith Anderson also asked commissioners to hold the line on expenses in the upcoming budget. “The more we stretch the budget, the worse position we’re going to be in,” Anderson said. “It would be nice if we could afford increases and I’ve dealt with some employees who deserve increases.” Commissioners voted unanimously to reject the CAD budget, citing the disparity in giving CAD employees a raise and not county employees. Reimbursement resolution Commissioners approved the fiscal year 2010 year-end reimbursement resolution for capital expenses in the amount of $775,935.39, plus the purchase price of a van for a convict labor crew (described below) not to exceed $10,000. Tax notes will be issued for that amount to replenish the balance of the county’s general revenue fund. The 2010 fiscal year budget included debt service of $3,628,565 and with the approval of the 2010 Tax Notes, next year’s amount will be $3,609,290 – a reduction of $19,275. EMS payment approved Commissioners voted to approve a $32,000 payment to Americare EMS for response and recovery services provided in connection with Hurricane Ike which were denied reimbursement by FEMA. The negotiated invoice had been reviewed by the district attorney’s office, emergency management coordinator as well as the consultant who oversees the county’s indigent health program. Thompson said the services related to a request from local officials to Americare to preposition additional EMS staff in Polk County prior to the storm’s arrival on Sept. 13, 2008. Emergency officials try to preposition crews to ensure outlying communities can be reached after the storm passes, according to Thompson. “This makes an attempt to make good on a request that they responded to prior to the hurricane,” Thompson said. The negotiated amount is a reduction from about $100,000, Boyd Dickens of Americare EMS said. Officials are working to verify whether the expense can be paid from the Indigent Health Care fund and if not, it will be taken from the general fund balance. Pct. 1 Commissioner Bob Willis noted that FEMA rejected the invoice because the county did not have a contract for disaster services. “Everybody needs to be informed that there needs to be a contract ahead of time,” Willis said. Thompson pointed out that Americare is the contract provider for 911 services. Convict labor crew van Commissioners voted to approve the purchase of a used van to transport a convict work crew from the Polunsky prison units for county work projects. Maintenance Supervisor Jay Burks said he and a mechanic were scheduled to inspect an 18-passenger van with low mileage up for sale for $9,550 by a Dayton church on Tuesday. If that van is not mechanically sound, Burks said he’ll look at other options. Last month, commissioners approved a contract with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice that allows the county to use convict work crews on public projects. The first priority project will be construction of the animal shelter near Leggett. Burks said Polunsky officials have approved a total of 16 inmates for the work crew but only five or six may be working on any given day. The contract requires the county to provide meals for the inmates and to provide a vehicle to be housed at the prison unit for the security staff to use to transport the crew to the work site. This work crew would be in addition to inmate work crews from the county jail who are assigned to community projects at the direction of the sheriff and probation department crews working to satisfy community service requirements. The TDCJ convict crew will also be used to supplement custodial/maintenance staff charged with maintaining 25 county buildings.