County might skirt tax hike
by Jason Collins
Aug 08, 2012 | 1117 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
County Judge David Silva warned two weeks ago that he and the commissioners would likely be forced to raise taxes a couple of pennies to fund the budget.

On Monday, the warning became a reality, or so he and the other commissioners thought.

By Tuesday evening it was discovered that the commissioners would not need to raise taxes this year to fund their budget – assuming they keep it as is.

Commissioner Carlos Salazar Jr. made the proposal to increase the tax rate two pennies to 53.197 cents per $100 property valuation.

However, due to an unprecedented amount of sales tax coming into the county, $1.7 million, the county will actually be able to fully fund its budget with a tax rate of 49.8 cents.

Last year, commissioners voted in a nickel tax rate increase to fund the budget.

That budget, however, didn’t include any raises for county employees.

This year is different though.

Commissioners, in a 3-2 vote approved an across-the-board 5 percent pay increase for themselves and all the other county employees.

Judge Silva and Commissioners Salazar and Eloy Rodriguez voted in favor of the higher tax rate and raises. Commissioners Dennis DeWitt and Ken Haggard voted against the tax rate, saying they didn’t like that all elected officials, including themselves, were included in the raise. Both said the raise should only be for regular employees, along with the justices of the peace and sheriff, due to their workloads.

Commissioners could still go with the rate they proposed however that would could trigger a rollback election.

According to Linda Bridge, county tax assessor/collector, the average taxable value of a homestead in Bee County this year is $59,067.

The proposed tax rate of $0.53197 per $100 of taxable value, the amount of taxes imposed this year on the average home would be $314.22.

If commissioners opt to go with the lower rate of $0.49824, the average homeowner would pay $294.30.

Commissioners have not yet formalized the tax rate. Their current vote is only approving a proposed rate.

Commissioners will hold two public hearings on this proposal to increase total tax revenues from properties on the tax roll in the preceding tax year by 6.77 percent.

The first public hearing will be held on Aug. 20 at 6 p.m. at in the commissioners courtroom, Room 110 of the courthouse.

A second public hearing will be held on Aug. 27 at 6 p.m. at the same spot.

Creating and balancing the county’s multimillion budget has been no easy task.

For the past several weeks during several meetings, commissioners have worked to cut their initial budget, which included $1.8 million in “wish list” items from various departments, to a manageable, fundable size.

“We are not all happy with whatever we got,” Silva said. “But the budget is not all set in concrete yet.”

Cuts were made across the board, some of which came after the court’s last meeting by Silva and County Auditor Blandina Costley.

“We brought it down to where we were only over $85,000,” Silva said. “I didn’t want to cut any more.”

One of those cuts occurred again at the Joe Barnhart Bee County Library despite pleas from Margie Awalt

Awalt, a member of the Joe Barnhart Bee County Library board, reminded the commissioners during a budget workshop on July 23 that last year commissioners cut their contribution there by about $20,000.

“I know things are tight in the county, they have been for several years,” she told the commissioners. “There are some new members on commissioners court... that might not understand the long-standing connection between the county and the library.

“It began in the northwest corner of the courthouse.

“The county fathers decided it would be an important thing to do to educate the public.

“So they got some old used books and began sharing them.”

The county, since 2007 has offered the library $70,000 to help keep their doors open and since then, she said, they have not asked for more money.

“We were trying to be good citizens and not ask for more and more money,” she said.

However, last year, commissioners cut that amount by nearly $20,000.

“Last year you cut us,” she said. “You started at $50,000. Fortunately a couple, three of y’all, saw some benefit to the library. But $50,000 is what the founding fathers gave us when we were in the old library on Corpus Christi Street.

“This is not going to make it.

“We are going to have to start closing during working hours or laying off personnel.

“Please look at it from our perspective. We need a raise too.

“I don’t want to lose the connection between the library and the county.”

Commissioners upped their contributed to $56,000 with the same promise as last year that if money becomes available, they would provide it to the library.

Silva reminded fellow commissioners that while the oil and gas activity has increased dramatically during the past year, much of it doesn’t qualify for taxing on this year’s budget. This includes the cryogenic plant being built in the northern part of the county and the variety of pipelines coming through the county. Only construction completed Jan. 1, 2012, can be taxed.

“All that activity has to come to roost one of these days,” Silva said.

Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at

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