“At what point are we as a commissioners court going to ask the public, what can we do now?” Haggard asked.
“We need to sell this tax,” he told commissioners.
He said the county needs a plan to encourage the voters to pass a higher tax rate than the rollback rate and then let the voters decide.
“We can’t cut services,” Haggard continued. “There comes a time when you have to act. And we have to act.”
But other commissioners seemed more than a little anxious about bringing the issue of higher taxes to the voters in an election that would be held in November.
Anything above that rollback rate of $0.54839 per $100 of assessed value, would require approval of the county’s voters. But voters in that election could also force the county to actually reduce tax rates to below what it is collecting now.
That could force the county not only to cut services but to lay off significant numbers of employees, just to be able to pay the bills.
“Let’s leave it up to the public,” Haggard said. “If it fails, then it’s on them, not us.”
County Auditor Blandina Costley reminded the commissioners that the agenda item being discussed would not allow them to take any action other than deciding whether to determine that there would be no pay increases in the next fiscal year for the county’s elected officials.
Commissioner Carlos Salazar quickly made a motion that no elected officials get an increase in pay and Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez seconded that motion.
Before they could take a vote on the motion, Commissioner Dennis DeWitt brought up the possibility that the commissioners could actually take a cut in pay.
At that point, County Judge David Silva reminded commissioners that neither they nor county employees had gotten a pay increase in “at least four years.”
Commissioners then voted in favor of Salazar’s motion to go ahead with budget discussions without any pay increases for elected officials.
Salazar, Rodriguez, Silva and DeWitt all voted in favor of the motion, but Haggard voted against it.
The agenda item also called for commissioners to set a deadline for setting county employee salaries. That deadline will be Sept. 12 when the commissioners will formally adopt their 2011-12 budget.
Next the commissioners voted to accept the effective and rollback tax rates as presented by County Tax Assessor-Collector Linda Bridge.
But they did vote until after they had discussed the sales tax revenue that Bridge and Costley had projected at $1,150,000.
Both Bridge and Costley told the commissioners that the rollback property tax rate was lowered when the commissioners earlier voted to increase the projected sales tax revenue from its original figure of $1.1 million to $1,150,000.
Commissioners had asked for that estimate to be increased because sales tax receipts have been rising steadily as a result of business activity brought by the recent Eagle Ford Shale activity.
Salazar asked why it was that projecting more sales tax revenue would reduce the rollback rate for property taxes.
Costly explained that counties are allowed to collect a half-cent sales tax only to reduce the ad valorem tax rate on property owners.
“I’m projecting $800,000 now,” Salazar said, apparently not understanding that reducing the projection would only cause the rollback rate to increase.
Finally, Silva managed to explain the figures.
“Whether we take it from here or we take it from there, it’s a wash,” Silva said.
At that point, the commissioners said to keep the sales tax estimate at its original $1.1 million level.
Before adjourning, the commissioners voted to accept the appraisal roll and taxable value of county property as prepared by Bridge.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.