County gets into fine print on budget

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

GEORGETOWN — The combined proposed budget for the Williamson County General Fund and Road & Bridge Fund came in at more than $262 million, with debt service to be added in, so watching Commissioners haggle over additional expenditures as low as a few thousand dollars may be a surprise.

But that’s what Commissioners do when taking requests for budget modifications from department heads and suggesting their own alterations once the proposed budget is presented.

During an Aug. 15 meeting, the court worked its way through a list of proposals for funding or shifts in funding in an effort to draw closer to a final number for the upcoming budget.

The meeting allows Commissioners to throw support behind projects, and even discuss current and future policy issues.

On a 3-2 vote, Commissioners voted to provide $40,000 to Pavilion Round Rock, an organization offering long-term assistance to those with mental illness and or substance abuse.

The organization offers long-term assistance through support systems that include friendship building, job placement and training.

While no one questioned the mission or effectiveness of Pavilion, Commissioners discussed how it fit into the philosophy of which organizations to contribute to and the implications of how it would effect other requests in the future.

“I’m not trying to debate the merits of what Pavilion does, it’s more is it part of the County’s core duties that we’d be doing anyways?” asked Pct. 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Terry Cook made the argument that an investment in Pavilion could reduce the strains on the county in other areas and help people reach a place where they are once again paying taxes in the county versus relying on it for assistance.

There was no disagreement, but the question remained for some on who should and who should not get assistance from the county.

“The issue that I see is that it’s not a discussion of whether it is a valid service or will it be helpful, but there are many that would be,” said Pct. 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey. “There are others out there and my guess is if we vote for this today they will be here next asking for money. The reason why we changed the way we were doing it before is because where do you draw the line?”

The $40,000 was approved as a one-time authorization by a 3-2 vote with Long and Covey opposing.

“These guys are in their second year of existence in Williamson County,” Cook said. “Nonprofits starting out struggle to get the momentum they need to raise enough funds to really go forward and handle all the administrative costs like rent and insurance. The ask is to help them out in this third year to keep them rolling.”

On other issues, the County moved to reduce funding for some items by shifting the focus in hopes of getting more for less.

Commissioners voted unanimously to remove funding for the Literacy Council in the amount of $187,241 and move a portion of that into hiring a new employee for a full-time GED position in the County Jail. The cost of the new position is budgeted at $82,794, saving the county more than $100,000.

In addition to proposed law enforcement additions to the Sheriff’s Department, the Court approved a request for a new deputy constable in Pct. 2 at a total cost of $163,096 including salary, benefits, vehicle, training and equipment.

A planner was added to the Road & Bridge Department to help the county meet new state requirements, and Long said in turn, platting fees would ultimately have to be raised about 10 percent to cover the cost.

“The Legislature, through one of their unfunded mandates, basically took the time that cities and counties have to review plats and cut it in half,” Long said. “It used to be you’d have 60 days to review plats and they’ve cut that down to 30. There is no way we will be able to meet our statutory deadline without an additional staff person. If we don’t, the plats are automatically approved and any fees are refunded.”

The County decided to spend $100,000 to help kickstart a new County Fair to be held at the Expo Center in Taylor. Support for that request was unanimous.

“With our new facility in the Expo Center I think this gives us a neat opportunity and I think it falls under our core services with parks,” said Pct. 4 Commissioner Russ Boles. “This is a one-time ask. It is to get it up off the ground.”

Covey made the point that it would require more staffing and maintenance through the nonprofit organization running the fair in the future to handle such an event, and manage the wear and tear on the facility.

Some support hinged on whether the monies would be refunded to the County eventually.

“I can support it if the plan includes paying back the money,” Long said. “Secondly, that a more robust plan comes forward because it will take more staff and that needs to be identified and the cost of that needs to be funded through the 501c3.”

In mid-August, Commissioners voted on a maximum possible tax rate of $0.459029 per $100 property valuation for the new budget. That rate is the same as the current year’s rate, with $0.1675 of that rate going toward debt service. After the vote, the amount can be reduced, but can’t exceed that amount.

Certified taxable values in Williamson County this year increased $5.6 billion over last year, coming in at $69.5 billion.

The County budget is made up of three funds – the general fund, road and bridge, and debt service. The tax rate is currently divided up with $0.251529 going to general fund, $0.04 going to road and bridge and $0.1675 going to debt service.

The proposed county general fund budget is $219,801, up just over $7 million from the current year. The budget as requested by department heads is just over $226 million. The various county departments covered under the general fund requested a total of 156 new full-time positions and the budget office recommended 32 of those.

Fifteen positions are proposed in public safety to include the Sheriff’s Department, Emergency Medical Services, the County Jail and Emergency Services. Ten were proposed in general government including information technology, the tax office and facilities, while six were proposed for the parks department.

A total of five were proposed on the judicial side with one each for the County Attorney, County Clerk, District Courts, District Attorney, and Justice of the Peace Pct. 2.

There is $3.5 million proposed for salary increases, $3.6 million for facilities, $7 million for long range transportation planning and $9 million for additional capital improvement projects separate from the funds being sought from voters in the November bond election.

The recommended road and bridge budget is $42.7 million and the debt service is $127.7 million.

At the maximum proposed rate, the owner of a $200,000 property would pay $918 in County taxes.

Adoption of the budget and tax rate is set for Aug. 27.

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