|San Jacinto News Times - Local News
Copyright 2013 - Polk County Publishing Company
County adopts budget, sets tax rate
COLDSPRING – San Jacinto County Commissioners Court unanimously adopted a tax rate that decreases the 2014 county tax revenue by 0.85 percent from last year's revenue. The new budget contains no salary increases, two new county positions and budget cuts for the county's justices of the peace as well as most other departments. San Jacinto County Judge Fritz Faulkner told the court that $279,334 will be taken out of the county's fund balance to fund the new budget without raising the tax rate. Faulkner said a decrease in the county's property tax value due to a decrease in mineral values and some mandated computer software from the Supreme Court is the cause of the county's financial condition. The tax rate will remain at $0.6480, just slightly less than the county's effective rate, he said. "Since filing the budget we've now trimmed the budget to $257,000 and we may find some more to trim off," he said. Since starting the budget process over $1 million has been trimmed back by cutting all department requests and salary increases for employees, according to Faulkner. Due to the decrease in property tax values, the county has $75,000 less than last year in revenues, based on an aggressive 97 percent tax rate collection. "We normally base our revenue on a 92 percent tax rate collection," Faulkner said. Two new positions were added to the budget, one for the maintenance department and one for a new position for the county's 911 emergency services department. He explained that the new position will be funded for a county employee and not for an independent agent for that position as rumored by many, giving reference to letters written and signed by "concerned citizens" recently. Explaining where the county's money is going, Faulkner said, "The Supreme Court has ruled that we have to efile, beginning in January and as a result our software must be upgraded at a cost of about $365,000. We can't go back to Big Chief tablets. It's been mandated and we have to do it." Faulkner said he originally put in a 3 percent raise for employees. "I can't support funding raises by taking the money out of the county's fund balance," he said. Lengthy discussions were held concerning patrol vehicles for the sheriff's department, expenses in the sanitation department and salary increases for employees. "Last year we did a 3 percent salary increase. Eight out of the 10 years I've budgeted raises but don't have it this year," Faulkner said. "Next year we've got to figure out something for our employees," Pct. 2 Commissioner Donny Marrs said. "Our budget brings in $75,000 less than last year at the same tax rate, and we cut over $1 million from budget requests," Faulkner reminded the court. While the court held firm on not giving salary increases, the San Jacinto County Sheriff's Department was budgeted three new patrol cars at a cost of about $35,000 each fully equipped. One has already been purchased and another one will come out of the 2013 budget which ends Oct. 1, and another will come out of the 2014 budget. While on the subject of county vehicles, Faulkner cracked down on employees driving them home. "Why does everyone in the DA's office drive a county vehicle home?" he asked San Jacinto County Criminal District Attorney Richard Countiss. "Instead of seizing vehicles and giving them to employees you should sell them and put the money in the budget," Faulkner said. Countiss explained that he was just following the policy he inherited when he took office. "It may be a bad policy so I'll take care of it," he told the court. "If it's your desire they'll be gone." Concerning the county's sanitation department, Faulkner said $311,000 was taken out of the county's fund balance to fund that department, which he and others described as a financial drain on the county. "We don't have a contingency fund in this budget and we need to keep enough money to cover three months of expenses in the fund balance," Faulkner said. "The only place our money is going to come from is the taxpayers." When the budget was finally adopted and a tax rate set to provide the revenue it was noted that due to the decrease in property values the average property owner in San Jacinto County will pay a little more in property taxes although the tax rate is basically the same as last year's.