Denton County officials got their first taste of the 2014 budget Tuesday, and it tasted like a tax increase.
Budget officer Donna Stewart presented commissioners with an overview of the recommended $223 million budget, a $12.5 million increase over last year. The presentation was the first step in the process of finalizing the budget and tax rate.
County Judge Mary Horn said the budget was a lot to chew on, but without final appraisal numbers and the railroad rolling stock figures, there was still work for officials to do to get the budget in shape.
“As usual, [Stewart] has put together a real good recommended budget, taking care of all the things we need to address,” Horn said.
The proposed tax rate is $0.289010 per $100 valuation, an increase from the current rate of $0.282867.
Stewart’s presentation included department appeals, updates on debt service payments, county jail expansion costs and the reasoning behind the recommended increase taxpayers would see, should it be approved.
“There is nothing that really jumps out at me as of yet,” Horn said about the budget.
She did not shy away from the issue of raising taxes.
“It’s probably going to take a half-a-penny increase. But that’s not a surprise — that was anticipated because of all the things we need to be doing,” she said. “It’s always going to be tough when you continue to grow as fast as Denton County.”
The factors behind the increase include the cost of expansion of the jail and juvenile facilities. With the expansion, county officials are entertaining requests for 50 new hires in the jail.
“There is no way getting around the expansion of the new juvenile facility and the jail — they are both definitely needed,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Hugh Coleman. “It’s just one of those things we’re going to have to pay for. I think we will work through the budget and thoughtfully consider all of our options and make the tough decisions that need to be made.”
Horn said she anticipated the standout details of the jail and juvenile facilities and continues a wait-and-see view of the budget proposals.
“We’re always anxious to get the certified roll. That doesn’t happen until the 25th of July, and we have to wait for the comptroller to give us the railroad rolling stock,” she said. “At this point, until we hear the final numbers and hear any appeals [made] over the next few weeks, there is not too much we can do until we get some more concrete information.”
The county has more revenue coming in to help make a dent in the projected increases, including feeds from property tax revenue and office and court fees.
Stewart reported that collections on property taxes, the largest single source of revenue for the county, have continued last year’s average of 98.92 percent. Revenue from new construction in the county is expected to bring in $3.1 million, approximately the same as last year, and the revenue from the increased tax roll is expected to bring in $1 million.
An additional 5 percent automatic registration fee is projected to bring in $3.4 million, an increase of $200,000 over last year. Funds from that are split between the general and the road and bridge funds. Court fees are projected to bring in $836,500 more than last year.
And while the county is bringing in increased revenue in a number of areas, it is also doling out less money. Social service agencies in the county are requesting a total of $390,038 in funding, and the committee charged with determining how much to give them is recommending $295,000.
Library funding has been reduced again, this time a 10 percent hit, bringing the total to $349,890. Twelve libraries in the county requested funds while Denton, Coppell, Roanoke, Plano and Frisco did not request any funds.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Andy Eads praised the budget department staff for being able to cut down on the bulk of requests from the initial budget.
“Now it is our time as a commissioners court to closely examine each one of the expenses recommended by the budget office and determine which ones are absolutely necessary,” he said.
Commissioners will hear budget appeals Tuesday during their next meeting.
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.