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Denton County begins budget process

Profile image for By Bj Lewis / Staff Writer
By Bj Lewis / Staff Writer

It’s a long, grueling but necessary annual process for Denton County officials, and it’s here again.

Denton County commissioners will hear from the budget office at today’s meeting and have their first look and public discussion on the recommended budget for the 2014 fiscal year.

“I haven’t even presented anything to Commissioners Court, so I don’t want them to read it in the paper,” budget officer Donna Stewart said Monday afternoon.

The Commissioners Court meeting at 9 a.m. today in the second-floor Commissioners Courtroom at the Courthouse on the Square will be the first time officials see the recommendations from her office, including information on new hires, the overall tax rate, major increases and decreases, and more.

“We will be faced with some rather large expenditures related to the jail and juvenile division,” Stewart said. “Those buildings are being built as we speak. Once they open, they will be required to staff the buildings and have operating funds available.”

The jail expansion is in the first phase of construction. It was first approved by voters as part of a $22.5 million 2008 bond package and will cost an estimated $30.7 million. The remaining money will come from tax notes and the county infrastructure program. The first phase is expected to be completed in 2015.

The budget for the 2013 fiscal year was $210.5 million, which set up the current tax rate of 27.7357 cents per $100 in property valuation.

County Judge Mary Horn said it will be a tough budget year because of the necessities the county has to face, particularly the jail expansion.

“Obviously you have to staff a jail and it’s not like other areas. It’s a 24/7 operation,” Horn said. “With growth, these things happen, and you have to work it into the plan and that gets difficult.”

Horn also noted the new 442nd District Court coming online this year will have a small impact on this year’s budget.

Horn recalled looking at some data recently where Denton County grew more than 50 percent between the last two census years of 2000 to 2010. Though growth has slowed down in the last 10 years — from mid-2003 to mid-2013 — the population has still shown a 30 percent growth rate, she said.

“With that growth comes the corresponding demand for services,” Horn said. “Our task is to figure the most cost-effective way to meet the demand and that gets challenging.”

County officials will begin budget workshops next week for any department which might want to appeal their recommended budget.

A second workshop will be July 30.

The final workshop is Aug. 13, when court members will take action on the proposed budget and tax rate.

Public hearings on the budget are scheduled for Aug. 27 and Sept. 3. Commissioners will adopt a budget and tax rate on Sept. 10.

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.