County commissioners got their first glance at the 2012-13 budget and possible tax increases Tuesday.
Budget officer Donna Stewart presented the initial $210 million budget to commissioners during court, and officials are now set to go through it, hear departmental appeals and whip the budget into something upon which everyone can agree.
Stewart reported to the court that the estimated effective tax rate — the rate needed to raise the same amount of money as last year on the same property — is 27.54 cents per $100 of property value. A rate of 27.863 cents is being proposed.
The current rate is 27.7357 cents.
The increase was due primarily to voter-approved debt, Stewart said.
That debt comes from bonds sold in March to help pay for new facilities, roads and bridges, something Commissioner Hugh Coleman supports.
“We sold bonds in March; now it’s the morally and fiscally prudent thing to do to pay for them,” he said. “It’s infrastructure needed by the county, and Precinct 1 will pay for a lot of replacing roads and bridges in the beginning with the North Texas Tollway [Authority].”
County officials expect a $4.7 million increase in tax revenues from new construction and an increased tax roll compared with last year.
Until county officials receive certified values from the appraisal district, all of the budget work is just a guess, County Judge Mary Horn said.
By law, 95 percent of the rolls have to be certified and sent to the taxing jurisdictions by July 25, Horn said.
“Our county auditor and budget director have been getting preliminary numbers to compare with past years,” she said. “They are usually pretty close on their estimate, but you never know until you know.”
Horn said that reduced funds from the state will be a problem again this year.
“All the grants in years past are decreasing greatly or just going away,” she said.
One funding source in particular mentioned during the meeting by county auditor James Wells was a criminal assistance stipend that counties get for incarcerating illegal immigrants.
“Since that problem is growing each year, the money is going down, but the problem is increasing,” Horn said. “The state doesn’t have the funds to be assisting counties — not that they gave a large amount to begin with.”
The county received about $200,000 in assistance but it cost the county in the millions, Horn said.
“So that’s a concern, but it’s one of many,” she said.
Departmental appeals are due to the budget office by today. Those appeals and the final rolls will have to be in before final tax rate conversations can be had, Horn said.
“There are always some decisions left to be made, but we can’t until we get our values and know exactly what we’re working with,” she said.
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875. His e-mail address is email@example.com .