Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Commissioners to focus on budget Monday

Donley County Commissioners will delve into budget negotiations when they convene for their August session next Monday.

County Judge John Howard said the proposed budget posted on the county’s website will likely see some changes during Monday’s meeting, but the $2.6 million proposed budget does have several items the county will have to deal with.

Howard said the county will likely have to raise its tax rate even to stay at the effective rate. The rate would have to go up at least a penny in order to bring in the same revenue as the current year due to declining property valuations.

County officials are also mindful that “legislative hijinks at play in Austin” will likely make it difficult to raise taxes in the future, Howard said.

“The Legislature is diligently considering options to restrict local governments’ ability to raise taxes,” Howard said. “I hope the voters understand that we raise taxes only when necessary and not to feather our nests. The last time I looked, our nest was not particularly feathered. We have been frugal.”

Budget priorities for the county, Howard said, will include covering rising costs of employee health insurance, more help for the Precinct 1 and 2 Justice of the Peace due to heavier workload in that office, addressing facility needs of the Precinct 3 and 4 Justice of the Peace, and ongoing courthouse maintenance issues.

Howard said the county has money set aside to help address masonry and window repairs on the 1890 Courthouse, but more may be needed.

The proposed budget also seeks to give each employee a $100 per month raise, which will cost the county about $50,000.

“If you look, there are seven out of the last 20 years that county employees received no raises,” Howard said. “Eight of the last 20 they received a three percent raise.”

The county will continue to receive a grant to help pay for the highway safety officer program, amounting to $44,861.58. That covers 80 percent of the cost of employing and equipping the deputy patrolling the highway, Howard said.

Donley County will also begin to reap payments from the Salt Fork wind farm during this fiscal year, but Howard said county officials have not included that in the proposed budget, preferring instead to get that money in hand before obligating any of it.

Tax hearings for the county will be held on August 23 and September 5. A county budget hearing will be held  during the commissioners’ regular meeting September 11.

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