By SEAN BATURA
Hays County commissioners this week voted to adopt a proposed fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget calling for a property tax rate less than half a penny more than the current rate.
Hays County Auditor Bill Herzog said the proposed property tax rate of 47.39 cents per $100 of taxable valuation will result in the average homeowner paying less taxes because property values declined.
“If your house went down as much as everybody’s on the average, then you’ll pay $6.83 less because your value’s gone down, and the rate hasn’t gone up to offset that,” Herzog said. “It’s gone up some, but not enough to offset that, and so you end up with actually a tax break.”
The court set two public hearings for Sept. 13 at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., and commissioners will likely vote on the proposed budget and tax rate after the second hearing. Anyone may attend and address the court at the meetings.
A 48.3-cent tax rate would be required to collect the same amount as this year, according to Hays County Auditor’s Office. The Auditor’s Office anticipates the county will collect $944,897 more property taxes next fiscal year due to new improvements with a taxable value of $345,766,610.
“Something that can’t be stated enough…it’s hard for a lot of folks to grasp, but the absolute tax rate means one thing, but what really means something to people’s tax bills is just what you addressed, Mr. Auditor,” said Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle). “And so, in this case, the average taxpayer in Hays County with an average-priced home will see their taxes fall. Slightly, very slightly, but they’ll see their taxes fall under this budget. I say this for the benefit of the bored gentleman at the press table.”
The proposed FY 2011 budget includes a two percent raise for all elected officials, and also includes a one percent “cost of living” raise for all other county employees who work 30 hours or more per week. The budget includes an additional merit-based, one percent raise for employees who work more than 30 hours per week.
The aforementioned raises do not apply to jailers, sheriff’s deputies, and deputy constables, all of whom are included in the law enforcement collective bargaining agreement between the county and the Hays County Law Enforcement Association (HCLEA). The terms of the agreement will not be finalized until after the county adopts the budget and tax rate, said Herzog, because the attorney representing HCLEA is gone for three weeks.
In response to the news that the county would pass the budget before knowing the outcome of the law enforcement collective bargaining process, said Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-Wimberley): “How do we negotiate something we’ve already — do we just build cushions, hope that we — ”
“Or just stick to your guns,” Herzog said.
The court did not discuss the matter further.
Conley left the commissioners court meeting six minutes before his colleagues voted to adopt the proposed budget and tax rate. Conley expressed an eagerness to leave the meeting.
“Are we done making decisions?” Conley said. “Everything’s been said, all we’re talking about now are days, right?”
Conley left after the court decided on a public hearing day on which to adopt the FY 2011 budget. Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) made the motion to adopt the proposed budget and tax rate, and Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos) seconded the motion, which carried with a 4-0 vote. Adopting the proposed budget and tax rate was the court’s last action before it adjourned at about 5:40 p.m.
During the Aug. 24 commissioners court meeting, Herzog expressed doubt that any members of the public would attend the Sept. 13 hearings.
“They didn’t come when we raised taxes,” Herzog said.
At the Aug. 24 meeting, Barton said he generally favors the county holding many public hearings on various issues.
“I’ll say again, we met an average of three time a week through July,” Barton said. “We’ve had several eight-hour meetings on the budget here. It seems to me if you wanted to come to a budget workshop during the day, you kind of had your opportunity. And having one at night’s a good idea, but a lot of people…didn’t come.”
Sumter replied that the difference between a future public hearing and the budget workshops held in the last few weeks is that until last week, there had not been a proposed budget and tax rate available for public scrutiny.
The county will publish the salary schedule for elected officials in the next few days.
The FY 2011 budget includes a beginning operating fund balance of $33,053,980, operating fund revenues of $63,880,668, and operating fund expenses of $74,743,156. The estimated ending operating fund balance for FY 2011 is $22,191,492.
The beginning operating fund balance for FY 2011 is proposed to be 29 percent more than the present year’s beginning operating fund balance of $25,565,000. The proposed FY 2011 budget includes operating revenues nine percent less than FY 2010’s budgeted operating revenues of $70,536,448. The proposed FY 2011 budget includes operating expenses two percent less, than FY 2010’s operating expenses of $76,325,158. The ending operating fund balance for FY 2011 is proposed to be 12 percent more than than the FY 2010 ending operating fund balance of $19,776,290.
Including operating, debt, and construction funds, the proposed estimated beginning fund balance for FY 2011 is $184,777,866, 72.7 percent more than this fiscal year’s beginning balance. Proposed FY 2011 revenues are $81,029,947, one percent less than this year’s revenues. Proposed FY 2011 expenditures are $242,297,970, 45 percent more than this year’s expenditures. The proposed FY 2011 ending fund balance is $23,509,843, 7.7 percent more than this year’s estimated ending balance.
Most of the proposed FY 2011 total beginning fund balance constitutes construction funds of $148,323,886, 89.6 percent more than this year’s beginning construction fund balance. Only $224,000 of the proposed FY 2011 beginning construction fund balance is not generated from bonds or certificates of obligation. Proposed FY 2011 construction fund expenditures of $150,481,386 constitute the most expenses proposed for FY 2011, 87.5 percent more than this year’s construction fund expenditures.
The Hays County government center project is proposed for the largest share of FY 2011 construction fund expenditures, at $55.9 million. On March 23, commissioners voted 4-1 to sell $72 million in certificates of obligation (COs) to pay for the government center, currently under construction near Wonder World Drive and Stagecoach Trail.
According to the Auditor’s Office, the value of the average single family home in FY 2010 is $165,345, versus $162,314 in FY 2011, and taxable values are $160,345 and $157,314, respectively. Average property taxes paid for the average home in FY 2011 come to $745.51, down from $752.34 this fiscal year, constituting a .91 percent decrease.
“We published that we’d go no higher than 48.3 cents,” Barton said. “We brought that down a lot, almost a penny. But that’s also subject to change. In fact, I would expect it to shift slightly still, a few hundredths or possibly tenths of a penny.”