Bee County residents will have one last opportunity this Monday to tell county leaders what they think of the proposed 3-cent tax hike and so-called deficit budget.
The public hearing on the proposed tax increase and proposed budget begins at 6 p.m. in the commissioners courtroom, located on the first floor of the Bee County Courthouse.
After the public hearing, commissioners are scheduled to vote on adopting the proposed spending plan and set a tax rate.
Commissioners have informally agreed to adopt a $6.6 million budget that will finance county operations between Oct. 1, 2008, and Sept. 30, 2009.
The spending plan calls for commissioners to take some $66,000 out of the reserve fund to help make ends meet. During their last budget workshop commissioners were eyeing a $138,000 deficit but now expect to get about half of that from the Skidmore Water Supply District in the form of reimbursements and some from the fees collected through the hot check fund set up by the county attorney’s office.
Bee County Judge David Silva and all four commissioners also have come to the consensus that they will have to raise the tax rate by 3 cents this year to help balance the budget.
The county presently charges taxpayers about 44 cents for every $100 worth of property they own in Bee County. But because property values have increased significantly since last October — up some $144,000, thanks mostly to oil and gas exploration and production — the county can in effect charge 38 cents per $100 value and generate the same amount of tax revenue as it did this present budget year.
However, commissioners are planning to raise the rate to 3 cents over the effective tax rate to around 41 cents per $100 value to help balance the budget. The 3-cent increase will fetch the county some $354,000 this budget year.
County leaders have also informally agreed — meaning they have yet to formally vote on the proposal — to give employees a 3 percent pay increase this budget year. They plan to use $149,000 in interest accumulated in the health care fund to pay for the $149,000 in salary increases.
The interest was earned on the $1 million or so dumped into the health care fund by Christus Spohn each year in hospital lease payments.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Carlos Salazar Jr. has said that much of the budget increase this year is due to higher fuel, utility and food costs that the county cannot control.
To help cut costs, however, county leaders reduced some jobs from full-time to part-time positions, and did away with the county judge’s part-time secretary position altogether. The county judge will share a secretary with a justice of the peace, whose office is also located in the county courthouse. The county judge also has a full-time secretary.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Susan Stasny suggested in August that she and other commissioners spend an equal amount of time working out of the county judge’s office answering phones if his one secretary is out of the office or off on vacation or sick leave.
“Our offices are in the courthouse anyway,” she explained. “We could answer phones when the secretary is away.”
However, during a subsequent budget hearing, commissioners agreed the count judge needed two secretaries because of the large volume of phone calls he receives each day.
Commissioners also slashed several hundred thousands of dollars in funding for most departments, including cutting funding for the county jail’s inmate meals program from $170,000 to $140,000.
Commissioners also chose not to fund the Beeville Garden Club and Bee County Master Gardeners’ landscaping efforts at the courthouse.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez wanted to give the groups $1,000 to help them with their beautification efforts. He and his fellow commissioners agreed to cut that amount in half because times were tight financially for the county.
Commissioners agreed to cut the proposed funding request altogether once they learned the county would have a funding shortfall of some $340,000.
Bee County Clerk Mirella Escamilla Davis said she was willing to help water the flower gardens maintained by the garden clubs if the county would provide water hoses.