Minimal tax rate increase expected for Bee County

County leaders are expecting about a penny tax rate hike this year primarily funding the state’s undfunded mandates. County Judge Stephanie Moreno said she and the others on the court are still working on this year’s budget. Shown here also are commissions Carlos Salazar Jr., Dennis DeWitt and Sammy Farias.

BEEVILLE – County leaders are looking at increasing the tax rate less than a penny — primarily to fund the state required programs that come unfunded from Austin.

This expected increase will position the county at what is being calculated to be just below the rollback rate — an amount that, if reached, would require voter approval.

This will provide an additional $968,000 in tax dollars to the county.

Of that, an estimated $937,000 will fund these state mandates.

“We could have provided the security upgrades that we need not only in the tax office, but in the entire courthouse,” said County Judge Stephanie Moreno. “There’s so much that we could have done with the $937,000.”

Moreno has been outspoken with her concerns about these state mandates.

Her opposition isn’t  regarding the programs, but the lack of funding received by counties from the Legislature to comply.

The court hasn’t yet finalized its proposed budget or set a tax rate. That will come later.

For now though, the county budget includes the additional jailers needed for the new sheriff’s office building.

It also includes raises for some of the employees paid less than their counterparts in similar sized counties.

“Salaries don’t change for elected officials,” Moreno said. The exception to this is Mike Knight, county attorney, who is receiving additional longevity pay.

Also, county leaders seem to be breaking with tradition and not equally funding the constable positions.

“I would like to decrease the travel allowance for the constable in Precinct 1 and increase the Precinct 3 travel allowance,” she said. “The constable in Precinct 3 seems to be the most visible.”

That will give the constable in Precinct 1 an allowance of $850 and Precinct 3 an increase of $2,000 to $4,859.

Johnny “Dino” Sauceda serves as Precinct 1 constable. Kirk Delgado serves in Precinct 3.

The question that lingers, though, is what will happen next year when new taxing limitations take effect.

“I am really concerned about next year’s budget and how we are going to raise enough revenues without having to cut services we are not required to provide,” Moreno said. “When we have economic development, when our sales tax increases, it continues to work against as our ability to raise taxes declines.”

Of course, saving is one way, but items like paying inmate medical bills continue to eat away at their efforts.

“Just last week, the county taxpayers paid for the birth of a healthy baby boy by one of our inmates,” she said.

The inmate was ready to begin serving her sentence within the prison system just prior to the child’s birth.

“TDCJ was not ready for her because they didn’t have a bed,” Moreno said.

Getting the state to pay their share of expenses is one way to save local tax money. The county’s effort to have this occur has failed in the past.

“I look on the positive,” said Commissioner Dennis DeWitt. “We’ve done a great job of putting together the foundation for a bright economical future. I really think we’re going to do great.”

“There’s a lot of great things on the horizon,” Moreno added. “It is just a little daunting to think about next year. We are going to keep trying.”

Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 343-5221, or at media@mySouTex.com.