|Trinity Standard - Local News
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Tax appraisal district revises 2014 budget
Trinity Standard -
GROVETON – After a majority of the local tax entities rejected their first plan, the Trinity County Appraisal District's board voted Monday night to cut proposed spending and adopted a revised 2014 budget. The new budget will now be resubmitted to the local tax collecting entities for their review. They will have 30 days to review it and either accept or reject it. The first budget called for a $91,000 increase in spending over 2013 and was rejected by the Trinity County Commissioners Court, the Trinity and Groveton school boards as well as the Trinity and Groveton city councils. Under state law, only four of the county's tax entities were need to veto the budget. The Centerville and Apple Springs school boards took no action on the proposal and the county's special districts -- Trinity Memorial Hospital District and the Westwood Shores Municipal Utility District -- have no vote with regard to the TCAD spending plan. During Monday night's meeting, TCAD Chief Appraiser Greg Cook presented a revised budget for both the appraisal district as well as the Trinity/Groveton Consolidated Tax Office. In both budgets, Cook removed plans to hire additional employees for the two offices. He had hoped to hire an additional appraiser for the TCAD office and a "roving person" to help at both the Trinity and Groveton tax collection offices. He noted that while only the TCAD's budget proposal was vetoed, he felt most of the taxing entities also were opposed to the planned increase in the tax office budget. Although a separate entity, the consolidated tax office also is overseen by Cook and the TCAD board. It is charged with collecting the taxes for all of the local tax entities with the exception of Trinity County. TCAD is the agency that by law sets the value of all county property for tax purposes. The consolidated tax office then collects the taxes under a contract with each of the tax entities. The Trinity County Tax Assessor-Collector's office handles the tax collections for the county government. Like the TCAD budget, each of the contracted entities pays a pro-rated share of the expenses for the consolidated tax office based on their overall tax levy. Under the revised budget proposal approved Monday night, TCAD will be asking for $829,671 to fund its operations in 2014. This is up by just over $30,000 from 2013 but down by $61,000 from the original 2014 plan. The increase being sought is to offset rising postage, printing and office expenses and Cook noted that the amount set for salaries is unchanged from the 2013 level. Of the $61,000 removed from the original 2014 proposal, Cook said about $50,000 could be traced to the proposed new appraiser, including salary, benefit, training and other costs. The chief appraiser noted he had originally sought to hire another appraiser in order to meet state requirements that every piece of property in the county be reappraised in value once every three years. "In order to meet that requirement, we needed another appraiser," he said, adding that dropping the position will make it "challenging" to comply with state mandates. The state currently is requiring county appraisal district to have their overall values set at between 95 and 105 percent of fair market value – which is the amount the property could be expected to bring when sold. When the overall values fall outside the range, local school districts are penalized when the state withholds a portion of their funding. Cook and the board noted that in 2012, for the first time in 12 years, Trinity County's overall values met the state standards. The state listed the local values at 96 percent of market value. "You've got us into compliance for the first time in a long time and we certainly don't need to start going backwards," TCAD board member Rudy Wilkison told Cook. The chief appraiser said he plans to meet with officials at the local taxing entities in the coming months to explain in detail what is needed and, hopefully, they will agree to allow TCAD to hire the additional appraiser next year. Cook also noted that his annual salary also drew some criticism from some of the entities that vetoed the original budget. He presented a report showing that when total compensation – salary, vehicle expenses, longevity pay and other benefits –is calculated, he is the lowest paid chief appraiser from among all of the counties adjoining Trinity County. During the Trinity County Commissioner Court meeting, it was noted the salary paid to the Houston County chief appraiser was much less than Cook's. While the salary paid by the Houston County Appraisal District is less than that paid in Trinity County, Cook said the Houston County chief appraiser also draws a separate salary through their consolidated tax office. When the two salaries are combined, it is more than what is paid to Cook, who does not receive a separate payment from the local tax office. A breakdown of what each of the tax collecting entities will be asked to pay to TCAD during 2014 is listed below. The totals are subject to minor changes after each entity adopts new tax rates in September. • Trinity County would pay $276,776.25, up by $10,011 from 2013 but down by $20,408 from the vetoed plan. • Trinity Independent School District would pay $210,819, up by $7,625 from 2013 but down by $15,545 from the vetoed plan. • Groveton ISD would pay $158,882, up by $5,747 from 2013 but down by $11,715 from the vetoed plan. • Westwood Shores Municipal Utility District would pay $47,623, up by $1,723 from 2013 but down by $3,511 from the vetoed plan. • Trinity Memorial Hospital District would pay $36,422, up by $1,317 from 2013 but down by $2,686 from the vetoed plan. • City of Trinity would pay $32,806, up by $1,380 from 2013 but down by $2,404 from the vetoed plan. • Centerville ISD would pay $25,470, up by $921 from 2013 but down by $1,878 from the vetoed plan. • Apple Springs ISD would pay $24,143, up by $873 from 2013 but down by $1,780 from the vetoed plan. • City of Groveton would pay $16,510, up by $597 from 2013 but down by $1,217 from the vetoed plan.