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Heeding citizens, Hays Commissioners keep 2010 property tax rate

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 by John Davidson

Hays County Commissioners, under pressure from constituents to keep taxes down during the current economic recession, decided against an increase in the property tax rate in the county’s 2011 budget and voted unanimously to keep the rate at 2010 levels.

 

At a special budget session Tuesday, commissioners waded through the 2011 budget, slashing more than $480,000 out of a total budget of more than $240 million in order to maintain the current tax rate of 46.92 cents per $100 of assessment.

 

To close the budget gap, commissioners killed proposed pay hikes for elected officials, reduced a planned cost-of-living pay increase for county staff, and delayed all merit-based raises for staff until December 1.

 

Because of numerous last-minute cuts and adjustments, final budget figures were not available at press time, but according to County Auditor Bill Herzog, the 2011 budget is very similar to the 2010 budget, with projected 2011 revenues of approximately $81 million, about what they were in 2010. Total expenditures will increase next year by about $75 million on account of major capital projects like the Hays County Government Center, which has construction costs of about $52 million.

 

“This is a tough year for a lot of people,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford. “After all was said and done, it didn’t make sense to have a salary increase for elected officials. That does not sit well with folks who are struggling.”

 

Ford added that a lot more people are struggling in Hays County than the number of those present at Tuesday’s budget hearing. The public comment period of the meeting was standing room only, and many of those present had harsh words for the commissioners. “We heard from a lot of Libertarians and Republicans,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton, the Democratic nominee for County Judge.

 

It was a replay of a pair of budget hearings held on September 13, when commissioners met stiff public opposition to a proposed property tax rate increase and a two percent raise for elected officials. The proposed property tax rate would have been an increase of 0.47 cents from 2010, landing at 47.39 cents per $100 of assessment for 2011.

 

Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley, the lone Republican on the court, had said he would not vote for a budget that included a tax rate increase and that he was opposed to pay raises for elected officials if it meant a rate hike.

 

But because the court opted out of the tax increase, it was forced to make cuts in other areas including road projects, which prompted a clash between Conley and the other commissioners. When Barton and County Judge Liz Sumter pushed Conley to cut his precinct’s road budget — the largest of the four precincts — Conley countered that he had already cut $68,000 in road projects from his precinct and was reluctant to cut more.

 

“Roads are the most fundamental thing county government does besides the justice system,” he said, but finally agreed to defer a $45,000 road project to 2012.

 

The final budget passed on a vote of 4-0 —Sumter had to leave just before the vote, at about 5:30pm. Prior to the final vote, commissioners praised county staff for finding ways to cut the budget. Conley warned that the court would have to be vigilant in keeping costs down moving forward.

 

“It’s going to be tight again next year,” he said. “It’s not going to be any easier.”

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