Liberty County commissioners on Tuesday adopted a $50 million budget for fiscal year 2020 and set the tax rate at $0.5788 per $100 in assessed property value. The budget combines the General Fund, Road and Bridge Fund and the Debt Service Fund, and is 12 percent more than last year’s adopted revenue.
“We haven’t changed our tax rate in the last five years,” said County Judge Jay Knight. “We can’t do anything about rising appraisals, which means that people may still see an increase in their property taxes. The commissioners and I are taxpayers, too, so we are very cognizant of what this means to businesses and homeowners.”
Seventy-five percent of the adopted revenues, $38 million, come from ad valorem taxes collected from property owners. Increased values are expected to raise $3.78 million in this budget, which is an 11.22 percent increase over last year. New properties will add another $1.355 million.
Sales taxes are the second-highest revenue generator for the county with this budget including $4.587 million from sales tax. Fines, fees and forfeitures account for another $4.533 million. Licenses and permits will add another $951K in revenue.
On the expenditures side, $17 million is budgeted for public safety, which includes the sheriff’s office, jail and constable offices.
All county employees, with the exception of elected officials, will see a 3 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA). The county’s six justices of the peace were budgeted for an additional $10,000 each in car allowances, raising them to the same rate as the six county constables. A salary grievance committee earlier this year, by a majority vote of 7-2, determined that the justices of the peace should receive the same car allowances as constables. Following the recommendation of the salary grievance committee, commissioners subsequently voted 3-1 to add the additional car allowance to the next fiscal year’s budget.
Other highlights of the budget are the creation of Liberty County Court at Law No. 2, six new deputies for the sheriff’s office with some assigned to mental health cases, new deputy constables for Pct. 4, 5 and 6, and more road-paving materials for for the county’s four road and bridge precincts.
“We beefed up material allowances for commissioners. They always live close to the edge financially, relying on grants a lot. The grants are what has helped them when they lack in money to take care of their precincts. That is a growing pain,” Knight said. “I think the additional money averages out to about $120,000 more for each commissioner’s precinct.”
In the two years since Hurricane Harvey, the four commissioners have spent a small fortune on repairing roads and bridges that were damaged by the storm. On the heels of Tropical Depression Imelda, the commissioners are now having to repair roads and bridges that were only recently repaired after Harvey, the judge said.
The commissioners are working as a team to be fiscally conservative, Knight said, which has allowed the County to build its fund balance from $8 million just five years ago to the current $15 million.
“We have been working on savings throughout the year. Our main goal is to give people their money’s worth. We are all in this for public service and that means providing the best you can with the means you have to provide it,” Knight said.