TEA Party Activists Decry County Tax Rate, Spending at Budget Hearing
SAN ANGELO, TX — Tom Green County Commissioners Thursday evening endured the last of two mandatory public hearings on the FY 2019 budget and tax rate.
The hearing was an opportunity for taxpayers to comment on and ask questions about the county’s proposed budget and tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year. Two TEA Party activists asked the most questions about county expenditures especially salaries and the criminal justice system.
Counties in Texas are funded primarily by property tax with some revenue coming from a small amount of sales tax, fines and fees and grants from various state and federal agencies. The Texas Constitution created Counties to be the local governmental body that provides the criminal justice system including the sheriff’s office and jail, the court system including judges, prosecutors, indigent defense, and all the support staff necessary. Counties also provide for road and bridge maintenance. Optional items Tom Green County provides include county parks and libraries.
The current property tax rate for a taxpayer who owns property in San Angelo is $2.521 per $100 in property value. Of that, $1.21 goes to the San Angelo ISD, 77.6 cents goes to the city, and 53.5 cents goes to Tom Green County.
Property taxes in Texas are driven by funding for public schools. Governor Greg Abbott has made property tax reform a priority in the upcoming legislative session and State Representative Drew Darby has filed legislation to abolish the property tax funding system for public schools.
Back in July, commissioners voted to set the maximum tax rate for FY 2019 at 54.5 cents per $100 in property value, one cent higher than the current tax rate.
TEA Party activist Mary Casper attended both public hearings on the budget. She told the court in the first public hearing that elected officials shouldn’t get longevity pay and asked if there were cuts that could be made to the criminal justice system. County Judge Steve Floyd explained that property taxpayers fund attorneys for indigent defendants especially capital murder defendants and those costs have skyrocketed because of the number of cases the county has had in recent years.
TEA Party activist Lynette Lucas had a laundry list of questions concerning discretionary items and mandatory items. Lucas at one point said, “The taxpayers can’t take any more. Can we as taxpayers vote ourselves a raise?” referring to the recent controversy over salaries for county elected officials.
Judge Floyd said salaries are about 60 percent of the county budget and they try to be fair but, “We have a huge gap in two areas; starting salaries for road and bridge workers and starting salaries for law enforcement.” Floyd said they didn’t address those areas in this budget and would take up the issue next year.
Pct. 1 Commissioner Ralph Hoelscher said there are four areas they look at every year where they can cut spending; county parks, libraries, the road and bridge department and the sheriff’s office. Hoelscher says by law they only have to pay for the sheriff’s salary and they could cut the deputies.
Judge Floyd told the audience after an hour and 16 minutes that the court had set the maximum tax rate at 54.5 cents per $100 in property value. The court can adopt that rate or a lower rate, but they can’t adopt a rate higher than 54.5 cents. The court will adopt a budget and tax rate to fund it at their regular meeting on Sept. 4.
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