Commissioners put finishing touches on budget

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

GEORGETOWN — Williamson County Commissioners voted Tuesday to adopt a $364.6 million budget for the next fiscal year, trimming the tax rate by three-quarters of a cent in the process.

A few items needed to be ironed out, such as last-minute additions, and final decisions on what would be earmarked for capital projects and long-range transportation planning, but the focus was on how much the tax rate could be lowered.

The debate moved from a half-cent reduction to a full cent, but in the end, commissioners voted unanimously on the three-quarters of a cent reduction, leaving the general fund rate at $0.251529 per $100 property valuation.

The Road and Bridge Fund rate and the Debt Service rate remained unchanged at $0.04 and $0.1675 respectively, for a total county tax rate of $0.459029.

The current year’s rate is $0.466529, and the effective rate to generate the same revenue next year as the current year was $0.446403. At the proposed rate, the county tax on a home valued at $300,000 would have been $1,399.59, while the same home on the final rate would be taxed at $1,377.08.

The final budget came in $35 million over the recommended budget, once capital expenditures were included.

After a pair of meetings over the last two weeks where the court weighed a number of additions to the proposed budget, Commissioners spent Tuesday’s final discussion adding a financial management position in the Sheriff’s Office and a County Director of Administration.

The County Director of Administration is new to Williamson County, but is seen by members of the court as a critical piece in communications with other elected officials and department heads. The total cost for the position is $136,351, which includes a $90,000 salary and set up with a computer and necessary equipment.

“I think the job is a really good one, I think it will be good for the county,” said County Judge Dan Gattis. “It is a position that works for the court and goes out and works with elected officials.”

There is a job description for the position, but as it was discussed, there would be specifics to iron out once it is filled.

“It would also have a role in economic development, as well as communication between elected officials, department heads and the court,” said Pct. 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey. “It would assist in that. The reason why I could support this position and not a county administrator is because this position would not usurp our authority, which I feel like is very important we maintain as a court. But it would be a liaison for us.”

Commissioners also set aside $42,500 to develop a new financial position in the Sheriff’s Office. The new funding will be matched with funding for an existing position that will be reclassified.

“We’ve arrived at possibly an alternative solution that is less expensive,” said Pct. 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long. “I’ve talked to the Sheriff about finding an existing civilian admin position and reclassifying that to make that into a financial manager in the sheriff’s office that would include the responsibilities for budget, purchasing, audits, kind of all things financial, that would report to the Sheriff.”

With a cash-ending fund balance of $97.3 remaining in the General Fund and $21.2 million in Road and Bridge, Commissioners upped their annual allotments for Long Range Transportation, which is monies used to purchase right of way, to $7 million and capital projects for the next fiscal year to $12 million.

In the coming weeks, the Court will narrow down the particular capital projects the $12 million will address.

“On the capital expenditures, we have an ongoing CIP (Capital Improvement Projects) list that is never-ending,” said Covey, advocating for an increase from $10 million to $12 million in the line item. “I was hoping we could add a couple million dollars more, to be able to have more capital improvements.”

Highlights of the new budget include a 2 percent cost of living increase for all employees not on the law enforcement pay chart, along with a 2 percent merit pool. The merit funds can be used at a department head’s discretion to give from zero to a 5 percent raise in one year.
Elected officials, with the exception of the county attorney, received a 4 percent raise. The county attorney salary is set in line with court at law judge salaries, which depend on a state scale.

Facilities and infrastructure work includes $250,000 for shower redesign at the Central Texas Treatment Center. Another $435,000 is included for parking lot and HVAC work at the Jester Annex in Round Rock, as well as funds for fire system upgrades at the justice center.

On the technology side, the county is in year two of a three-year project to purchase body cameras and replace in-car cameras, funded at $920,000 in the upcoming budget. A similar program to replace Toughbook computers is budgeted for $302,000 in its first year.

The county added $500,000 to the current budget of $800,000 for janitorial services throughout the county in an attempt to keep up with the growing needs.

Commissioners allocated $730,000 for new personnel in 911 Communications, but pending more information on salaries, the number of new hires was not specified. Even without all the details, the court believed funds were needed for the upcoming fiscal year.

Also likely being funded as a capital expense is $750,000 for radios and training lab expansion for the department.

A number of other positions were added to the budget, totaling $480,327 in allocated funds across six departments. The positions include two part-time to full-time positions, one each for Veteran Services and the District Clerk, an IT systems support specialist, a wireless communications programming specialist, an environmental sanitation employee, and two for the District Attorney’s office – a victim assistance coordinator and child abuse intake prosecutor.

The proposed budget for corrections added seven new employees to the jail, but none in law enforcement. After lengthy discussions on response times, call volume and the value of having more deputies on patrol, Commissioners added eight patrol officer positions at a cost of $1.3 million.

The other big-ticket item in the new budget is $4.5 million for voting machines. The new machines will provide a paper trail, which is not available with the current system.

The process, which was rocky at times, was the last budget for Gattis who is retiring.

“While we get to sit up here and vote, this has been a real effort with everyone working on things, every elected official, every department head,” Gattis said. “We spent lots of hours discussing, arguing over this budget and it is a good orderly process. My sincere thanks goes out to everybody in this county that has worked on this.”

Covey echoed Gattis’ thoughts, reminding everyone that while the court works to keep expenditures as low as possible, investment is always needed.

“We’ve seen all kinds of issues in the economy, and of course with growth we’ve talked about and additional needs that we’ve had, both in our operating budgets as well as capital items,” she said, reflecting on the last dozen years of change. “We’ve tried to balance that alongside the debt we have, that folks like to talk about, but I’ll say that nobody complains about driving on Ronald Reagan, or Chandler or 183A or 45, or 130 or any of those other roads.”

Mike@LHIndependent.com

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