County digging in to budget process

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

In a county with expenditures eclipsing near $300 million, the process of budgeting is ongoing throughout the year, but Friday, officials will gather to discuss policy, procedures and goals for the fiscal year 2019 budget.

“Really what we do there is have an opportunity for department heads, and if elected officials want to come, to go around a big table and say ‘This is going to be my budget priority this year,’” said Pct. 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long. “We started doing that because what we found is people are going out, doing their job and they get in this silo. Some groups naturally work together, but others don’t. This is the opportunity for those folks to hear the bigger picture, so that when we’re in the budget process they can see how their need fits into the bigger picture.”

Departments have already submitted new personnel requests with numbers, for new positions and reclassifications, to the budget office to begin pulling together data for the new budget.

The 2018 budget was $327 million, with $191 million of that falling under the general fund, $33 million for road and bridge and $102 million for debt service.

The continued growth helps the County raise the needed funds to continue operations, but also pushes officials to continue to be creative in stretching those funds to meet the matching growing expectations.

“That demand for service doesn’t ever subside, it just gets more intense,” Long said. “Where people required less of government before, they’re demanding more and more now. People want government to do more and more for them.”

Property tax revenues make up about 70 percent of the county budget.

“We are very dependent on property tax, and that’s not by choice, it is just the reality because we don’t have a lot of the same tools a city does with the diversity of revenue streams,” Long said.

Revenue projections for the current year budget were $315 million, up $21 million from the previous year. New property added to the tax rolls made up $9.7 million of that increase, with higher property values making up the rest.

Increased property values have allowed county officials to reduce the tax rate even as revenues have increased. While the tax levy in 2004 was just over $100 million, and has increased to nearly $250 million in 2016, the tax rate is the lowest it has been in that time. The highest tax rate in that span was $0.499657 per $100 valuation in 2005 and 2006. It has steadily decreased since then, to the current rate of $0.466529 per $100 valuation.

According to County Budget Officer Ashlie Koenig, the certified tax rolls are presented to the County from the appraisal district on July 25, telling officials exactly how much revenue there will be for the new budget. She said budget work in Williamson County is structured as need-based budget proposals, so once revenues are known, the commissioners court will have decisions based on whether the need surpasses revenues or is less than revenues.

Long said issues like public safety and technology continue to be key areas of focus as the county grows.

“We’re still in an amazing growth pattern, and that growth, while it brings in more property taxes on the revenue side, you’ve seen, along with that growth, the bad side of growth,” she said. “I think we’re going to have to really pay attention to what’s happening on the law enforcement side and judicial side, though we pay attention to that every year.”

In the current budget, identified priorities included information technology and capital improvements, with compensation and roads identified as challenges.

The meeting Friday is a chance for departments to spell out not only their own needs, but also talk about what they may need from other departments, Koenig said. The workshop begins at 10 a.m., Friday, April 6, and will be in the Harrell Room of the Round Rock Jester Annex, 1801 E. Old Settlers Blvd.

Mike@LHIndependent.com

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