Commissioners vote to maintain tax rate

LIVINGSTON – Although final approval will be made in September, Polk County commissioners formally voted Tuesday to propose maintaining the current tax rate when the 2016 budget cycle begins on Oct. 1.

During their regular meeting, commissioners confirmed an agreement made at last week's budget workshop to propose a tax rate of $0.6461 per $100 in assessed value. While this is the same rate used for the current 2015 budget, it does exceed the "effective rate" of $0.6417, which means it constitutes a tax increase under state law.

The effective rate is the amount the county would need to generate the same amount of income as the prior year.

If given final approval, the $0.6417 rate would mean a taxpayer with $100,000 in taxable value after exemptions would pay $646.10 in county taxes under the 2016 budget. If the effective rate of $0.6417 were adopted, the same taxpayer would be assessed $641.70.

Under the plan stated Tuesday, the overall county tax rate will be broken into three parts -- $0.1234 being allocated to retire existing county debt; $0.1429 to the road and bridge fund; and $0.3798 to fund everything else covered in the general fund.

Public hearings on the proposed tax rate are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 25, and 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 1. A hearing on the county's 2016 budget will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 8. All will be held in the third-floor commissioners courtroom in the Polk County Courthouse in Livingston.

Just three months ago, commissioners were faced with the possibility of having to increase the tax rate to overcome a projected $1.4 million deficit in the 2016 budget. The loss of more than $850,000 in funds previously received from the IAH Adult Detention Facility near Livingston and other factors were expected to create the shortfall.

Led by County Judge Sydney Murphy, the commissioners have worked to cut spending, agreed to not replace some personnel who have left and converted some positions from fulltime to part-time employees. Commissioners also agreed to give up $209,000 in tax income that had previously been allocated to their road and bridge budgets and turn that over to the county's general fund to help balance the new budget.

During last week's budget workshop, they also voted to trim 1.8 percent – about $66,000 -- off the sheriff's department's budget, but wanted to get input from Sheriff Kenneth Hammack as to where the cuts would be made.

At Tuesday's meeting, the amount needed to be cut by the sheriff had been reduced to 1.46% or $53,164.51.

Although Hammack reluctantly agreed to cut one currently vacant patrol deputy's position, he promised to be back before the court asking for it to be reinstated as soon as possible.

"You're singing to the choir, brother," said Pct. 3 Commissioner Milt Purvis.

Pct. 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet noted every department was being hit, including the commissioners' road and bridge funds. "We (the four commissioners) each have given up over $50,000 so we're all bleeding together," he said.

Other business
During the meeting, commissioners also:
•Authorized the issuance of $1.06 million in tax notes to cover a number of capital purchases made during the past year. The notes are being sold at an interest rate of 1.93 percent.
•Tabled action on a lease of 643 acres of land owned by the county's school districts in Throckmorton County in North Central Texas. Although the land is administered by the county, the income from oil and gas leases and surface leases is divided among the school districts. Polk County Agrilife Extension Agent Mark Currie reported that one of seven leases is available due to the death of the man who had leased the property. He noted at least three of the adjoining leaseholders have expressed interest in the land, but action was tabled due to the absence of Pct. 1 Commissioner Bob Willis.
• Approved a resolution in support of an application for an $80,227.53 grant being made by the Polk County Sheriff's Department to the Governor's Homeland Security Grants Division for three consoles.
• Approved trading two large generators that had previously been declared as surplus for two new, smaller generators to be installed at the county's maintenance fuel pumps and at the Corrigan Sub-Courthouse. The estimated cost of installing the equipment was listed at $2,500.
• Approved the list of salaries and benefits for the elected county officials. It was noted that the only change from last year was the addition of longevity pay. Murphy noted in the proposed budget, the only salary change included for any official or employee was the addition of the previously approved longevity pay.