Erath County Commissioners are proposing a property tax increase for 2011 - an action the court has proposed only twice in the past decade.
Commissioners approved a two-cent proposed tax increase from 45 cents to 47 cents per $100 valuation Monday. The taxes for a $100,000 home would increase by $20 per year.
County Judge Tab Thompson cited rising fuel, oil and road material costs, a 6 percent employee health insurance increase, the jail expansion and other factors as reasons the county needs the tax increase.
Meanwhile, county officials presented a general fund budget that is an estimated $51,000 less than last year, County Auditor Janet Martin said. The 2010-11 general budget totals more than $24 million
The proposed increase comes following careful consideration over the last two bugdet years. In all, county officials and employees were asked to trim 20 percent from their operating budgets.
"We have carefully and deliberately considered all of the factors," Thompson said. "This has not been a casual and thoughtless process."
For years, the county has supplemented taxes with reserve money fund operating budgets, but in the coming fiscal year, county commissioners are opting for a tax increase while taking less from savings in an effort to maintain a "healthy" balance in reserves.
"In order to keep taxes low for taxpayers, we have taken money out of reserves. This year, however, we will utilize a blend of taxes and reserve monies to fund the general budget," Thompson said.
"There are several factors in play right now that have caused the reserve to not be replenished as quickly."
Included in those factors are decreasing oil and mineral tax values, the $11 million jail expansion project currently under way. At the completion of the project, which is expected in Sept. 2012, the county will pay $3,325,000 from reserve funds.
Martin said the county maintains about $10 million in reserves for emergency situations.
"We believe its fiscally responsible to maintain a healthy reserve fund to respond to emergency needs," Martin said, adding that reserves also provide aid during natural disaster. "FEMA is no longer providing relief to many disaster-stricken areas, such as Palo Pinto County. Any relief to our citizens in these scenarios would likely come solely from county funds."
Additionally, the county will make capital investments during the 2010-11 budget year in order to relieve the upcoming budget of major expenses such as an automobile for the juvenile probation department, a fire truck and two defibrillators.
"We are postponing other capital investments to FY 2012 and 2013 budget cycles," Martin said.
Also, the current budget proposal includes a 3 percent pay increase for county employees, but not all commissioners believe that now is the time for raises.
"I have a problem with this budget because of the 3 percent raise to employees. We are always aggravated when we hear news of state and federal lawmakers giving themselves raises. The same applies here and now is not the time," said Precinct 1 Commissioner Jim Pack who recognized he is of the minority opinion.
Contributing further to the proposed tax increase, Erath County will be footing the bill for some state mandates and programs approved during the 82nd Texas Legislature.
The state will no longer reimburse portions of district attorney expenses and road construction and maintenance, and will be taking more of the local mixed drink taxes.
In January, commissioners joined 249 other Texas counties in adopting resolutions urging state legislators not to pass unfunded mandates onto county governments, according to the Texas Association of Counties.
Public hearings are scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept 1 and 8 in the Erath County Commissioners Courtroom.