By SEAN BATURA
Hays County commissioners postponed adopting their fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget Monday after residents notified them the document was not available online as required by state law.
About three dozen citizens attended two budget hearings Monday, some protesting the lack of a budget document to review before the first hearing. County officials said most residents who attended both meetings opposed the proposed 0.47-cent property tax rate increase and the proposed two percent raises for elected county officials and staff.
“They were pretty much all saying the same thing — ‘Don’t raise the tax rate and don’t raise salaries,’” Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) said.
Sumter said Monday that postponing adoption of the budget has put the commissioners court “up against the wall.” The county’s budget year begins Oct. 1. The county set a new budget hearing for Sept. 28 at 1:30 p.m. and has posted the proposed budget online.
“This was a clear slap in the face of the people, to have to speak about a budget they were not even able to see until today,” said San Marcos resident Rob Roark, who attended the first Monday hearing. “Now we have to get it and come back at 6 (p.m.) tonight?”
Hays County public information officer Laureen Chernow said not posting the budget online was an oversight.
“We posted it as soon as we heard from a citizen Monday morning that it wasn’t there,” Chernow said. “We were all surprised, as we hadn’t had any complaints prior from the public or your brethren in the media, or we would have taken action sooner. The auditor’s office had it available for review in their office, but just didn’t send it … to be posted. I think we had it online by 9:30 Monday morning.”
Chapter 111 of the Texas Local Government Code states that if a county maintains an website, the county clerk “must take action to ensure” the proposed budget is posted online.
“I guess it was just a mess-up by us,” said Hays County Clerk Linda Fritsche (R-San Marcos). “We went all digital. Usually they’ll (the auditor’s office) bring us a hard copy and have it in our office. Usually (County Accountant) Vickie (Wilhelm) and I will get together and I’ll make sure that they send it, that they get it posted on there. Vickie’s off out of the state learning the new financial system (for the auditor’s office), so that’s what happened. It wasn’t anybody trying to hide the budget or anything like that. It was just because of the new system that we have and the new procedures, and (going) paperless, and all that kind of stuff. I apologize for all that, and didn’t realize that was my responsibility.”
Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) said the proposed property tax rate would represent an increase in taxes for some people, but not most. When residents at Monday’s hearing expressed confusion about whether or not taxes would be raised under the proposed rate, commissioners and Sumter attempted to explain. Barton asked Hays County Auditor Bill Herzog for help explaining the issue, as the county auditor is appointed by the district judges, not commissioners, to prevent conflicts of interest.
Herzog said the proposed property tax rate of 47.39 cents per $100 of taxable valuation will result in the average homeowner paying less in taxes because average property values declined this year.
A 48.3-cent tax rate would be required to collect the same amount of property taxes in fiscal year (FY) 2011 as in FY 2010, according to the county auditor’s office. Based on a decline in average property values ths year, the average property owner would pay $6.83 less under the proposed rate, according to the auditor’s office.
Unlike last year, commissioners did not schedule a separate public hearing on the tax rate increase. State law does not require counties to hold such hearings if the tax rate is not increased beyond what is needed to maintain current revenues.
Only Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-Wimberley) expressed opposition to the proposed tax rate increase Monday. Conley said he opposes elected official salary increases only if the tax rate is increased. Conley said he was the only elected official last year who did not take longevity pay. If the county does not implement the salary increases for elected officials and some of the salary increase for other employees, the county will not have to increase the tax rate, Conley said.
“I still think we can give county employees a one percent increase and still be at our current tax rate,” Conley said. “But you can’t raise taxes on people and raise salaries at the same time. Not in this economy. I don’t think it’s appropriate. I’ve been saying it for three months now.”
Most of the approximately three dozen people who came to the second hearing on Monday opposed the proposed salary and tax rate increase. Fritsche said four of the five residents who came to the first public hearing gave feedback similar to the majority of residents at the second meeting. Deputy County Clerk Liz Gonzalez said one of the residents who attended the first public hearing asked the court to triple sheriff’s deputies’ pay.
County resident Dennis Rose, who spoke at Monday’s public hearing, said he had to go into debt to cover his expenses as government entities talk about increasing taxes.
“I have no cable,” Rose said. “I’m cutting things out of my budget. I’m asking this county that I’ve served here for 30 years and supported — (Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie) Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos) is my commissioner and she’s done a wonderful job … and I appreciate that. I’m asking you to tighten your belt. I’m asking you to cut just like we’ve having to do. And when we get through these worst economic times, then we can start talking about what we need.”
The public speaker after Rose, San Marcos resident Martha Lynn Saville, came to the podium with an adolescent boy in tow.
“I’m just going to be real quick, because he’s late for his Cub Scout meeting,” Saville said. “My situation is, I have not received a full paycheck in two years. Still working full time, making about 40 percent of what I was. I’m on partial unemployment for the last year and a half. We’ve gone from 15 employees down to five. One man is homeless with his entire family farmed out to relatives. I just wanted to make sure that you’re in touch with — when I hear about increase in salaries and increase in taxes, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
General applause followed Saville’s statement. The next public speaker, Driftwood resident Maria Hamburger, said citizens have “become serfs” to insure that government employees have “a lavish lifestyle.” Hamburger said she believes commissioners court members do not work as many hours as most people do at day jobs.
“Your jobs aren’t that hard,” Hamburger said to commissioners. “They really aren’t.”
Sumter replied that court members work very hard and often put in long hours. Sumter said commissioners could hold other full time jobs many years ago, but the county has grown so much that the job of a court member now is full time. Hamburger expressed disagreement and applause followed her remarks.
General applause followed three people who spoke out against the proposed salary and tax rate increases at the second meeting. Eight of the 10 people who addressed commissioners at the second hearing opposed the tax rate and salary increases.
The remaining two speakers included Henly resident Jimmy Skipton, who supported the proposed tax rate, opposed elected official salary increases, and supported the proposed one to two percent raises for other county employees. Precinct 4 Constable Ron Hood, also spoke to the court, saying he would not take a pay increase if the county raises its property tax rate. General applause followed Hood’s statement.
Aside from those who thanked the court for approving their funding requests and others requesting more funds, no one who attended the county’s budget hearing last year protested the 1.42-cent property tax rate increase implemented this budget year. Three people who attended one of last year’s two hearings on the proposed tax rate increase opposed the increase, and no one spoke during the second hearing.
Conley was alone in September 2008 in voting against paying six percent salary increases for elected officials in the FY 2009 budget. Conley, along with every court member, accepted his pay increase in January 2009.
Conley, Barton, and Ingalsbe declined their increases when the FY 2009 budget went into effect and took the raises when a preliminary report issued by a citizen committee in December 2008 recommended that elected official salaries be increased 26 percent in the FY 2010 budget. The commissioners settled on much smaller increases. Ingalsbe and Conley were re-elected in November 2008. Conley and Ingalsbe accepted their pay increases retroactively beginning in October 2008, and Barton did not.
Conley said he will not take a new pay increase if the county increases the tax rate. Conley said whether he takes a pay increase or not “means nothing to the taxpayer” because the increase is still budgeted and is not going back to residents. Ingalsbe and Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs) said they would not take salary increases in next year’s budget under any conditions. Sumter said she has not decided whether she will take a pay increase because she has only a few months left on the job and has not considered the matter fully.
Barton, who is in a similar situation, said the same. Barton is running for county judge in November against Republican Bert Cobb of San Marcos. If Cobb wins, then Barton is off the commissioners court.
Ford is running for re-election in November against Republican challenger Ray Whisenant. Cobb and Whisenant were in attendance at the second public meeting Monday.
The current, proposed, and requested salaries of elected officials are as follows:
* County Judge: $77,490 currently, $79,039.92 proposed, $77,490 requested.
* Precinct 1 Commissioner: $65,048 currently, $66,349.92 proposed, $65,049 requested.
* Precinct 2 Commissioner: $65,048 currently, $66,349.80 proposed, $65,049 requested.
* Precinct 3 Commissioner: $65,048 currently, $66,349.04 proposed, $65,048 requested.
* Precinct 4 Commissioner: $65,048 currently, $66,349.92 proposed, $65,048.04 requested.
* Sheriff: $87,689 currently, $89,444 proposed, $87,690 requested.
* County Clerk: $62,308 currently, $63,553.96 proposed, $62,308 requested.
* District Clerk: $62,308 currently, $63,554.84 proposed, $62,309 requested.
* County Court at Law No. 1: $126,919 currently, $126,919 proposed, $126,918.96 requested.
* County Court at Law No. 2: $126,919 currently, $126,919 proposed, $126,919 requested.
* Tax Assessor-Collector: $66,679 currently, $68,012.88 proposed, $85,542 requested.
* Treasurer: $64,000 currently, $65,280.12 proposed, $76,214.88 requested.
* Precinct 1, Place 1 Justice of the Peace: $53,809 currently, $54,885.68 proposed, $63,500 requested.
* Precinct 1, Place 2 Justice of the Peace: $53,809 currently, $54,885.68 proposed, $63,500 requested.
* Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace: $53,809 currently, $54,885.80 proposed, $63,500 requested.
* Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace: $53,809 currently, $54,885.68 proposed, $63,500 requested.
* Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace: $53,809 currently, $54,885.68 proposed, $63,500 requested.
* Precinct 5 Justice of the Peace: $53,809 currently, $54,884.96 proposed, $63,500 requested.
* Precinct 1 Constable: $50,502 currently, $51,511.92 proposed, $60,000 requested.
* Precinct 2 Constable: $50,502 currently, $51,512 proposed, $61,999.92 requested.
* Precinct 3 Constable: $50,502 currently, $51,511.92 proposed, $60,091.92 requested.
* Precinct 4 Constable: $50,502 currently, $51,512 proposed, $60,091.92 requested.
* Precinct 5 Constable: $50,502 currently, $51,512 proposed, $60,091.92 requested.
District judge and district attorney salaries are paid by the state. Sumter receives a $15,000 salary supplement from the state. In order to qualify for the supplement, county judges must spend 40 percent of their time as “black robe judges.” Herzog said the supplement is mostly for hearing probate cases.
Besides the two percent raise for all elected officials, the proposed FY 2011 budget 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 salary raises proposed for FY 2011 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.
The FY 2011 proposed budget as approved by commissioners in late August includes a beginning operating fund balance of $33,053,980, operating fund revenues of $63,880,668, operating fund expenses of $74,743,156, and an estimated ending operating fund balance for FY 2011 is $22,191,492.
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.
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.Email | Print