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Stories Added - September 2010
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Taxpayers seek answers about county spending
San Jacinto News- Times
COLDSPRING – San Jacinto County’s proposed 2010-2011 fi scal year budget was dissected by concerned citizens last week wanting explanations about how their tax money is being used and how it might be better spent. Taxpayers attending the second public hearing on the proposed budget before its adoption scheduled this week and the adoption of a tax rate to fund it were told by San Jacinto County Judge Fritz Faulkner that this year’s budget contains no raises and additions. The budget requested by department heads has been eliminated. “We’re cutting what we had last year to meet shortfalls in revenue this year,” he said. Among the shortfalls in revenue, according to Faulkner is about $800,000 from the jail that was budgeted as revenue but the county only received $150,000. Faulkner said that is a result of a contract with Harris County to house inmates that hasn’t worked out. He said Harris County is sending inmates to Louisiana instead of to Texas counties because the rates are cheaper. In an attempt to house some of Trinity County’s inmates, the sheriff’s department recently invested in a van to transport prisoners between the two counties with seizure funds. Faulkner praised San Jacinto County Sheriff James Walters for the work he is doing in trying to house more inmates and increase the revenue. “Through no one’s fault, fees in the Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace offi ce are down $100,000,” Faulkner said. “Revenue from fi nes is also down because the Department of Public Safety reassigned offi cers to South Texas, which took the number of DPS offi - cers down from 13 to four,” he said. While revenues are down, expenses are up and giving an example, Faulkner said the county’s insurance is up $75,000. “We are proposing a no defi - cit budget and no rate increases while providing the same services with a tightening of belts,” Faulkner said. Answering a question from a lady in the audience proposing a reduction in salaries for all county employees, Faulkner said he had considered it but hadn’t included it in the budget. Explaining, Faulkner said reducing salaries any further would mean that the county would have a harder time attracting and retaining employees. “We can’t keep deputies because once they get six months experience, they can go to any of the surrounding counties and make twice what they’re making here. We’re a training facility for them,” Faulkner said. Deputies make about $24,000 to $25,000 per year here, according to Faulkner. “Their salaries are low here,” he said. “The cost of living here is low too,” said Coldspring taxpayer Clifton Love. I took a look at our schools and they are paying some fantastic salaries. How are they doing that?” he asked. Faulkner declined to speak for the school districts. Another lady said she didn’t mind her tax dollars going to teacher salaries but she like the biggest expenses going to administration salaries and athletics. Another lady asked the court what the county needs from its citizens to bring the jail dollars up and create more tourism revenue. “We have a beautiful lake and instead of all those people going to Lake Conroe they could come here,” she said. “We tried to entice businesses to move to the county. We had only two applicants and both located in Pct. 2. One is a $35 million energy facility and another is Texas Agra Chips. The drawback to tax abatement is we are the only entity to give it. The cities and schools didn’t,” Faulkner said. Faulkner explained that the county’s efforts to attract new businesses and tourism are harmed by the school district’s tax policy. “The county has passed a property tax abatement program in order to lure new business here,” Faulkner said. “If the schools were to buy into a tax abatement program, it would help.” School district and cities throughout the county need to offer a property tax abatement. Any abatement within city limits has to have city involvement, according to Faulkner. “The reason why this county, state and country are in a mess is because people like us sat on our butts,” said taxpayer Steve Howeth. “We voted for people because we liked their looks or because they talked good. We didn’t look into their backgrounds to see if they deserved our vote. A good example is sitting in here now. He is excellent at doing his job and got voted out,” Howeth said. One resident and taxpayer questioned the spending of $83,000 annually for copier leases, saying he has been in companies that had 300 people that didn’t spend that much on copiers. He also asked if the county could reduce the number of clerks in the DPS office since the number of troopers has been reduced from 13 to four. “I hate to cut someone out and then they show up with all these troopers,” Faulkner said. The county’s retirement rate was also questioned. For every $1 a county employee contributes to his or her retirement, the county contributes $1.80. According to Faulkner, the court voted to increase the amount the county contributed to employee retirement as an incentive to retain them in the county. ”No one is taking any fancy cruises on their retirement from the county even with the county’s match,” Faulkner said. Expressing surprise that county employees receive a contribution to their retirement fund that exceeds what they contribute, Love said, “You put in a dollar and you get $2.80 back, that’s a great deal but expensive on the taxpayer.” “The county is just trying to maintain and not go backwards,” Faulkner said. In opening statements, Faulkner said, “The average taxable value of a residence homestead in San Jacinto County last year was $72,615 (average taxable value of a residence homestead in the taxing unit for the preceding tax year, disregarding residence homestead exemptions available only to disabled persons or persons 65 years of age or older.) Based on last year’s tax rate of $ 0.6264 (preceding year’s adopted tax rate) per $100 of taxable value, the amount of taxes imposed last year on the average home was $454.86 9 (tax on average taxable value of a residence homestead exemptions available only to disabled persons or persons 65 years of age or older.) “The average taxable value of a residence homestead in San Jacinto County this year is $75,706 (average taxable value of a residence homestead in the taxing unit for the current tax year, disregarding residence homestead exemptions available only to disabled persons or persons 65 years of age or older). If the governing body adopts the effective tax rate for this year of $0.60333 per $100 of taxable value, the amount of taxes imposed this year on the average home would be $456.76 (tax on average taxable value of a residence homestead in the taxing unit for the current tax year, disregarding residence homestead exemptions available only to disabled persons or persons 65 years of age or older). “If the governing body adopts the proposed tax rate of $0.6264 per $100 of taxable value, the amount of taxes imposed this year on the average home would be $474.23 (tax on the average taxable value of a residence homestead in the taxing unit for the current tax year, disregarding residence homestead exemptions available only to disabled persons or persons 65 years of age or older).” Prior to the public hearing on the county’s proposed budget and tax rate, commissioners met in a regular session of court. At that time they approved Sherryl Evans ad the county’s central counting station manager and Vicki Shelly as the county’s tabulation supervisor for the Nov. 2 election night. Commissioners approved a motion to submit a no-match community development block grant for the purpose of installing 40 or 50 low-to-moderate families in the county with onsite septic systems at a cost of about $ to $5,000 each. They also approved an inter- local agreement with the Shepherd Independent School District for maintenance and approved funds available in the assets seizure and forfeiture fund for part-time assistance in the district attorney’s office. The funds will be used for hiring Van Loggins as a parttime investigator at $10per hour for 24-hours per week for up to one year.