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County opts to not raise taxes despite other increases

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Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2013 9:00 am

Thanks to a three percent increase in tax rolls and other revenues, the county is not raising its $.530261 tax rate – despite significant increases in expenditures.

“I’m just glad we could keep the tax rate and not go up on it,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Randy Krueger said after the record, five-minute meeting Friday morning.

“This county is growing, which helps the overall budget,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Barbara Walker added.

The commissioners passed a $19,827,362.67 budget. Compared to the 2012-13 budget, the newly adopted budget is expected to raise revenue from property taxes by $824,290 – a 7.14 increase – and of which $214,694 stems from new property, according to Auditor Mary Nichols.

Sales tax revenues are expected to bring in a $140,000 increase from last year.

Some of the revenue was placed in capital improvements and a newly proposed county court of law.

The county also recently reduced the overall $8.3 million personnel and salaries budgets by about $500,000, while raising some salaries to a maximum $12 per hour.

Major increases in expenditures will include a five-percent salary increase to all county departments, two of which is discretionary and three for cost of living; additional positions estimated to cost over $120,000 annually; distributions to fire departments; and the road and bridge department budget.

Positions that were added include a dispatcher for the sheriff’s office, as Precinct 4 Commissioner Pam Finke said 911 calls have significantly increased over the past five years; increasing a part-time jailer position to full time; a new, full-time hire for the treasurer’s office to help with payroll, which is being moved from the human resources (HR) department, as more state mandated responsibilities are expected to be added to HR; a part-time position for the District Clerk’s Office to transform current documents into a digital format; and a part-time position for the Tax Assessor-Collector’s Office, based on growth and as additional, state mandated duties are expected.

Finke said the added positions would increase the budget by over $120,000 annually.

Road and bridge

Road and bridge takes up the bulk of the county budget, at $4,749,552.61 – a $477,098 increase from last year.

Engineer Bob Cochrane said his budget was raised an estimated 11 percent, chiefly because of increases in contract hauling and fuel costs. Fortunately, the estimated $1.3 million cost for base materials did not increase. Last year, an overage in that line item helped cover unexpected increases in contract hauling and fuel costs.

The contract hauling line item had to be raised from $500,000 to $953,730.64. Last year, $941,281.95 was expended. In 2011-12, $685,714.41 was spent.

“We put a lot of structure on the roads we had been surfacing,” Cochrane said, as he explained the increase for hauling road base materials.

The department newly resurfaced approximately 10 miles of county roads and 10 to 15 miles of existing, including all or parts of: 192, 173 and 174, 311, 341, as well as John Rice, Bracewell, Lonestar and Harrison, amongst others, the engineer said.

The engineer said roads are chosen in various parts of the county based on the amount of related traffic, as road crews place traffic counters throughout the county. Roads are also chosen to protect previous county investments, in an effort to prevent erosion.

“We will place only a second seal on roads that have pavement and need to be preserved to save the investment already made in that road. Road and bridge will make changes to the proposed roads, as further traffic data and other information (existing conditions such as how much base material exists, etc.) are gathered and contract prices are updated,” Cochrane said. “Whippoorwill is a good example of where Grimes County previously (before Cochrane’s arrival) placed a significant amount of base material onto the road. Rather than allowing that material to erode away, I am trying to spend a little more and protect the investment already made to the road.”

A cracked CR 452 was recently resurfaced for that reason.

An estimated $35,000 was removed from the overall 2012-13 budget, as the department paid for the parking lot improvements at the recently constructed Navasota annex.

The engineer plans to look at improving roads in Todd Mission, Bedias, Whitehall and the Keith area this year.

The department is also teaming up with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for two bridge replacements next summer. The county must only pay a 10-percent match, which can be used for county improvements.

“So all the money really winds up in the county,” Cochrane said.

The Pinebrook/Kickapoo (south of Plantersville) and CR 108/Reagan Creek (southwest of Iola) bridge replacement contracts should be let in March 2014.

Fuel costs for the department significantly increased, from $250,000 to $290,000, as did fuel for the sheriff’s office, from $192,000 to $221,200.

Contract labor costs for tree removal have doubled since the initial 2011 wildfires, from $60,000 to the current $120,000. Though the county spent $157,700 on tree removal and mowing services this past fiscal year, the engineer said the county has made a “significant impact” in the amount of dead tree removal, and isn’t anticipating as much this year.

Flores Tree Service charges the county an estimated $100 to remove each tree, Cochrane said.

Fire protection

The budget for fire protection is $522,866, a $152,866 increase from 2012-13. However, $70,499 of last year’s budgeted amount was not expended for run costs.

The total fixed rate for the seven volunteer fire departments is set at $227,500, which is $32,500 per department – a $12,500 increase from last year’s budget. The county is proposing a $202,125 sum for volunteer fire department run costs that include mileage and apparatus usage per hour – a ten percent proposed increase.

The county currently pays volunteer fire departments a $20,000 fixed rate, as well as an additional $20 run cost for hourly use of equipment and $3.40 per mile.

Despite a $126,000 all-inclusive flat fee request from the City of Navasota for their combination Navasota Fire Department services – Chief Jason Katkoski said was based on the average annual cost related to the 23 percent of fire calls the city has responded to outside the city limits over the past five years – commissioners approved a $93,241 fixed rate. The Navasota City Council approved the related interlocal agreement last week. Last year, the council accepted an $84,482 offer after they initially proposed the $126,000 flat fee.

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