|San Jacinto News-Times - Local News
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Group fights for lower tax rate
San Jacinto News- Times
COLDSPRING – San Jacinto County Commissioners’ Court was asked to cut taxes Friday during one of two public hearings held on a proposed tax rate increase. The court is proposing to increase total tax revenues from properties on the tax roll in the preceding tax year by 3.28 percent. The proposed tax rate for this year is .6586 per $100 valuation, up from last year’s rate of .6236 per $100 valuation. The average taxable value of a residence homestead in San Jacinto County last year was $75,706, compared to $77,306 this year. If the governing body adopts the proposed tax rate of $.6586 per $100 valuation, the amount of taxes imposed this year on the average home would be $509.15 compared to $472.10 last year, a $37.05 increase on the average home. Opening Friday’s public hearing, San Jacinto County Judge Fritz Faulkner said the court feels the property tax increase is necessary because of the loss of $350,000 from the jail construction that was applied to the jail note, decreased county revenues and a $100,000 increase in county employee insurance. The budget has no raises for employees, no new positions or capital outlay, according to Faulkner. “Will you pledge not to raise taxes?” San Jacinto County Republican Chairman Sean Hanson asked the court. “As our county elected offi cials you have continued to raise our taxes higher and increase our future debt burdens year after year for the last 12 years,” Hanson said. “Coldspring-Oakhurst Consolidated Independent School District cut $1 million out of their budget. We’re tired of you holding us hostage by threatening to cut our services,” Hanson said, saying if the school district can do it the county can. Ray McCoppin told the court he is concerned over the rate of increases in local taxes. “It appears to me that the biggest increases have come from administrative functions and biggest decreases are in items that provide real services to the people,” McCoppin said. “Some of the biggest increases in the budget are coming from increases in benefits for county employees. These benefits include longevity pay, dental insurance, health insurance, life insurance and retirement,” he said. “There is no revenue problem in this county, we have a spending problem,” Nick Carter told the court. “Taxpayers are tired of paying taxes and getting less. We have a significant problem in conserving and spending,” Carter said. “Economic development is our future. We need to add jobs in the county and replace lost revenue with jobs. A solid economic plan can provide jobs for future generations,” he said. Margaret Dorman brought up the subject of unfunded mandates by the state and federal government and their impact on the county budget. Touching on those points, Judge Faulkner said the victim’s assistance coordinator was state funded at one time and is now costing the county about $42,000 is salary, insurance and benefits. “In the sheriff’s office a violence against women coordinator mandated by the state is costing the county about $40,000,” he said. “We’re still waiting for Ike funds. It’s been three years and we’re still processing generators and waiting for bids. We’re on the threshold of Phase II of Ike funds and haven’t decided if we will apply or not. I agree with ya’ll, there is no free money – someone has got to pay. With growth comes more responsibility,” Faulkner said. Many attending the meeting agreed the problem in the county was the lack of economic growth. “The county has to stop driving out businesses by over-taxing people,” said Debbie Hanson. “Is there any proof that businesses have left because of high property taxes?” asked Pct. 1 Commissioner Laddie McAnally. “Ya’ll don’t understand a lot of what goes on around here,” he said. He invited everyone to come to his office and look over his books and learn more about what commissioners do. “There are some hidden things in here that the average person doesn’t understand and before I was elected I didn’t understand either,” said Pct. 4 Commissioner Mark Nettuno. Among the hidden costs Nettuno mentioned are autopsies budgeted at $50,000 requested by justices of the peace in the case of deaths under questionable circumstances. “I think I can speak for the other judges,” said Pct. 3 Justice of the Peace Randy Ellisor. “Expenses are not what are on my mind when I’m out there and I got evidence that indicates foul play,” he said. Sean Hanson questioned the drop in revenues generated by the JP’s office. “The economy is hurting now. I’ve got some poor people in my precinct and I’ll be honest with you, when they get a citation I don’t get a maximum fine if they come in that first time. Maybe the clean up the road, maybe the do community service, maybe they pay half of their fine and half of it in community service,” Ellisor said. A discussion about economic development and recycling programs and the possibility of using an incinerator in the county to cut down on sanitation costs was held. “We’ve had this presented to the county before by people and they were shamed and sent out the door,” said Gerald Eisenhour. “Old attitudes is what’s killing this county and it starts right here in this room. Cooperation is lacking between cities and county. The five of you (commissioners’ court) are the government. It’s up to ya’ll. The people of San Jacinto County are not worth the effort any more,” Eisenhour said. Responding to a question as to why he doesn’t move, Eisenhour said, “It’s not worth the effort.” “It’s a good county,” replied Commissioner McAnally. The next scheduled public hearing on the proposed tax rate is Friday, Sept. 9 at 9 a.m.