San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

September 30th, 2010
Hays County holds the line on tax rate as judge candidates take aim

STAFF REPORT

The Hays County Commissioners Court on Tuesday adopted the 2011 County budget of approximately $243 million — a number inflated by several big-ticket construction projects and debt service.

The court also set the county tax rate at 46.92 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, the same as the 2009/2010 fiscal year, which is about a half-cent lower than the proposed rate of 47.39 cents. The 2010/2011 fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

At a rate of 46.92 cents, the average homeowner in Hays County will realize a decrease in his or her county tax bill of about $14, according to County Auditor Bill Herzog, due in part to slightly lower property appraisals in parts of Hays County. The 46.92 tax rate encompasses 29.85 cents for general maintenance and operating expenses, 12.63 cents for general debt, and 4.44 cents for road and bridge maintenance and operating expenses.

“It’s about being smarter, tougher, and leaner in hard economic times. We found ways to cut without sacrificing core services. I’m proud of the work we did as a county and as a community,” Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton said.

Barton’s Republican opponent for county judge, Dr. Bert Cobb of San Marcos, made the county’s budget a campaign issue in recent weeks with a rally that targeted in particular planned salary increases for elected officials. The event drew fewer than 50 people to the courthouse grounds at mid-day Tuesday.

“It was both financially irresponsible and morally wrong for Jeff Barton and his fellow commissioners to raise their own taxpayer-funded salaries by more than $8500 while raising property taxes on citizens. It is unfortunate that it took a rally of citizens to keep them from doing it again,” Cobb said in a written statement.

Barton noted that Hays County voters have approved a tax rate as high as 51 cents per $100 to pay for parks bonds approved in 2007 and a major road bond package approved in 2008.

“Under Republican leadership of the early 2000s, taxes increased steadily at an average of 4.6 percent a year,” Barton said. “One of the ways we’ve kept the rate low is good management of our parks bond fund and the road bond funds. I’ve been able to bring projects in my precinct 34 percent under budget saving millions of dollars.”

To lower the rate, the court cut the proposed county budget by removing entirely a pay increase for county elected officials, saving $29,645, and changing a proposed two percent cost-of-living raise for staff not covered by collective bargaining to a merit-based option that would begin no sooner than Dec. 1, a move that will save the county another $54,320.

The court removed $50,000 from the collective bargaining pool, which provides pay increases for certain law enforcement officers. Additionally, $230,000 was cut from countywide contract, legal services and contingency line items and $95,000 was removed from budgets for road maintenance. In all, the court decreased the proposed budget by about half a million dollars to ensure the property tax rate could remain the same.

Once the county auditor’s office finalizes changes, the adopted budget will be available in the Auditor’s Office and the County Clerk’s Office in San Marcos and online at www.co.hays.tx.us. County Commissioner offices will also have access to the online version for constituents who need online access during regular business hours.

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