by Crystal Gottfried
Comal County Judge Danny Scheel presented commissioners with the 2007 budget proposal at last week’s court.
The proposed budget calls for increased spending of nearly 16 percent and will collect 7.9 percent more in taxes although the proposed new tax rate would be $0.315202 per $100 of assessed valuation; a drop from last year’s rate of $0.353747.
The county budget proposes expenditures totaling about $43.8 million, up $6 million from this year, with about $3 million going to purchase right-of-way and relocate utilities as part of the county’s share of road projects with the Texas Department of Transportation to widen Texas 46 and U.S. 281.
Other major provisions in the 2007 budget are that elected officials would not receive a pay raise however the county plans to adopt recommendations from the county’s recent salary survey by Waters Consulting to give county employees up to a 4 percent merit increase at mid-year, and to raise the starting salary for patrol deputies.
Employee pay raises could cost the county nearly $1 million in 2007 or about $1,600 per employee.
An additional ten employees, needed in various county departments, would add another $400,000 to the proposed budget and budget increases for the Sheriff’s Office and for computer services would add $340,000.
Commissioners will be asked to approve $350,000 funding to create a planned new district court as well as adding $550,000 to the county’s reserve fund, a move that is part of a multi-year effort to rebuild the fund after unbudgeted expenses related to two major floods in 1998 and 2002 depleted it.
Recent property value increases would help the county raise about 7.9 percent more tax revenue than in 2006 even though the proposed tax rate of 31.5202 cents per $100 of assessed valuation is nearly 4 cents lower.
Without taking into account the county’s homestead exemption or the “over 65 tax freeze,” the owner of a home with an appraised value of $100,000 would pay approximately $315 in county taxes next year.
At first glance, Precinct #4 Commissioner Jan Kennady said that she thinks the judge did a good job on the proposed budget.
“Overall, I think it looks like a good, sound budget, including some of the things that we need to be working on,” she said. “Our law enforcement and courts are still the most expensive departments for the county.”
Precinct #1 Commissioner Jack Dawson said that he hopes county taxpayers realize why the tax increase for 2007 would be needed; even in the wake of last year’s increase and subsequent roll back election. “Comal County still has one of the lowest tax rates of any county its size in the state,” he said. “The reason we got in the rollback problem in the first place was the ‘good-old-boy’ attitude of ‘no tax increases’ caught up to us and now we are paying the price.”
Precinct #2 Commissioner Greg Parker said that he will continue to study the issues related to the proposed budget, especially for county constables.
“Elected officials are full-time employees, not part-time, and they should be paid as such,” he said.
Precinct #3 Commissioner Jay Milliken agreed.
“There are 21 elected officials in this county who won’t have a chance for pay increases because of the taxing perception of the citizenry,” he told the court. “Our salaries are not keeping up with inflation, or with the other county employees.”
Judge Danny Scheel told the court that he was going to look into pursuing legislation that would take County Auditor David Renkin’s salary “out from under” his own pay schedule.
“David does a great job for this county and he deserves a raise regardless of whether I get one,” he said.
County Tax Assessor/Collector Sherman Krause presented the court with the 2006 effective tax rate of $0.291830 and the 2006 rollback tax rate of $0.315202 per $100 valuation. The 2007 tax rate is set at exactly 8 percent more than the effective tax rate.
The effective tax rate is the rate at which the county could collect the same amount of taxes as in the previous year. State law allows counties to raise the tax rate by 8 percent each year before taxpayers could ask for a rollback.
Public hearings on the tax rate are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 24 and Monday, August 28 at Commissioners Court in New Braunfels.
Between last Thursday’s court session and the public hearings, Scheel said that he expects commissioners will “tweak” and make suggestions for changes to the proposed budget.
Commissioners are expected to vote to adopt the 2007 budget and tax rate immediately following the second public hearing.
The entire 2007 Comal County General Fund Proposed Budget can be viewed at the county’s website at http://www.co.comal.tx.us as well as in the New Braunfels Public Library and the Tye Preston Memorial Library.