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Hays taxpayers upset over rate hike, pay raise for elected officials

Friday, September 17, 2010 by John Davidson

With an Oct. 1 deadline looming, Hays County Commissioners have yet to pass a 2011 budget after being forced to delay a vote Monday because the proposed $242 million budget had not been posted online, as required by state law.

At a pair of budget hearings Monday, Commissioners met stiff public opposition on two fronts: a proposed property tax rate increase and a two percent pay raise for elected officials. According to the current proposed budget, the property tax rate would increase 0.47 cents, landing at 47.39 cents per $100 of assessment for 2011.

According to County Auditor Bill Herzog, most county residents will nevertheless pay slightly less in property taxes than they did last year because property values have fallen. That lost revenue will be made up in taxes on new buildings and improvements, which account for $1.6 million in tax revenue but of which only $600,000 is part of the proposed 2011 budget. The difference, Herzog said, is going back to taxpayers. “We’ve reduced what we’re going to spend by a million dollars.” The projected property tax revenue for 2011 will be about $49 million—the same as 2010.

Despite these details, residents are taking issue with the principle of hiking tax rates and handing out pay raises to public employees amid a severe economic recession, according to Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley—the only commissioner to oppose the proposed increases.

“People are struggling, these are tough times,” he said. “The argument that it is a small increase is true, but where the American people and the residents of Hays County are coming from, it’s cumulative. People feel like they’re being nickel-and-dimed in every aspect of their lives. It all starts to pile up and add on.”

Conley, the lone Republican on the court, also said that if the county cannot stay within its current tax rate, he is not in favor of pay raises for county staff or county officials, adding that he would not vote for a final budget that included the rate hikes. “It’s the principle of the matter.”

Pct.1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe said she wants to revisit the budget before the next scheduled hearing on Sept. 28. “After hearing all the comments at the public hearing this week, and even prior to that hearing about people struggling, I am concerned,” she said. “What I’m hoping to do is go back and take a look to see if there are areas where we could reconsider and bring it in line to the current rate, or get it as close or at the current rate as we can.”

Aside from the contentious property tax rate issue, the rest of the proposed budget is, according to Herzog, rather like the 2010 budget. Although the total proposed expenditures for 2011 exceed last year’s by about $75 million, the increase is on account of a Government Center, with constructions costs of approximately $52 million, and various road bond projects.

“Construction numbers really cause the budget to go on a roller coaster,” he said. “Expenditures will go way up and then drop back down once the project is completed.”

 

Other aspects of the proposed budget appear to be more stable, with projected 2011 revenues of $81 million—almost exactly what they were in 2010—and operating funds at about $75 million, $1.3 million less than last year.

 

Despite the public show of opposition Monday, Ingalsbe is optimistic about the budget. “I do believe we have a good budget. We’ve worked hard to keep taxes low, which I’ve always committed to doing,” she said. “There are many major projects we’re involved in currently and we’ve done a good job of keeping taxes down while accomplishing these things.”

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