JeffCo keeps same tax rate and fund balance

Published 6:42 pm Monday, August 14, 2017

BEAUMONT — Some residents may think sticking with the status quo is not such a bag thing, particularly when it comes to not raising taxes.

The Jefferson County Commissioners adopted a 3 percent Cost Of Living Adjustment, stayed with the .365 tax rate and the same fund balance of $40,736,500 for one more year with no increase in taxes. The decision was made at a workshop on Monday morning at the Jefferson County Commissioners Court.

The departments requested an increase of budget of $1,663,698. After budget hearings the amount was $535,130 and after the Aug. 7 workshop the amount was $1,312,476.

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The total proposed budget for the department’s request was $125,048,678. That amount was lowered to $123,920,110 after budget hearings. It was decided to be $124,697,456 after the Aug. 7 workshop. The final amount included a 10 percent increase for health care costs.

This proposed budget did not include Cost Of Living Adjustments (COLA) for union and non-union employees.

Under employee salary increase, the total proposed expenditure before COLA at 1 percent through 3 percent is $124,697,456.

The total proposed expenditures after COLA is $125,428,319 at 1 percent, $125,793,751 at 1.5 percent, $126,159,178 at 2 percent, $126,655,745 at 2.5 percent and $126,890,041 at 3 percent.

The proposed draw of fund balance with .365 tax rate is $11,487,745 at 1 percent, $11,853,177 at 1.5 percent, $12,218,604 at 2 percent, $12,715,171 at 2.5 percent and $12,949,467 at 3 percent.

The estimated beginning as of Oct. 1, 2017 of $40,736,500.

The estimated ending available fund balance as of Sept. 30 in general funds is $40,736,500. The drawdown of the fund balance is $5,883,662. The proposed revenues for Fiscal Year 2017-18 is $113,940,574. The proposed expenditures for FY 2017-18 is $124,697,456. The estimated ending fund balance as of Sept. 30, 2018 is $29,979,618. The drawdown of the fund balance is $10,756,882.

The tax rate will effectively raise taxes for maintenance and operations on a $100,000 home by $6.02.

The first public hearing on the tax rate is scheduled for Sept. 5. The second public hearing is for Sept. 11. The tax rate will be adopted on Sept. 18 and the public hearing and adopting the budget is scheduled for the same day.

Prior to agreeing on the tax rate, Brent Weaver, Precinct 2 county commissioner, said the commissioners court had done a great job in holding the line on the budget.

“I would like to give a pat on the back of our department heads and elected officials who have worked with us,” he said.

Weaver said the county added $28 million to the fund balance.

“It’s impressive how little our budget has increased from 2010-2017,” he said. “I’m optimistic we will not see a bad hit to the fund balance. We’re sitting on $40,736,500 in the fund balance; that’s quite a bit of money.”

Auditor Patrick Swain added it could be more depending on how much in sales tax the county gets.

Weaver said he couldn’t consider a tax increase in good conscience and to use the fund balance as a rainy day account.

“We’ll be okay,” he said. “If we have to consider something down the road we can do that.”

County Judge Jeff Branick said the $40 million in the fund balance is restricted, however. The general fund takes up $10 million so there’s more like $30 million in the fund balance.

Everette “Bo” Alfred, Precinct 4 county commissioner, asked if the county has any fiduciary responsibilities for the levee breach at Taylor Bayou.

County Judge Jeff Branick said the estimated cost of the temporary repair until the new levee project is started several years from now is $10 million. Additions to the levee could raise the cost by 20 percent to 30 percent. The Jefferson County Drainage District 7 could afford $8 million for the project.

Branick said he sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott about obtaining emergency funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“It’s a question if we get it or not,” Branick said. “If we get no other assistance, the city of Port Arthur and Jefferson County can partner with DD7.”

Alfred said he wanted to look at the whole picture for Mid- and South-County residents.

Branick said the latest information on the levee was the Division of Emergency Management was working to assist the county in the endeavor. Representatives could either arrive tonight or tomorrow.

“I feel comfortable we’re doing everything in our power for levee protection,” he said.

Swain said the county will pick up additional revenue through property taxes if taxes were raised by $.02.

Michael “Shane” Sinegal, Precinct 3 county commissioner, asked if it was possible to raise taxes next year. Swain said it was. Branick added it was dependent on what the effective tax rate would be and appraisals come in.

Also, industrial evaluations have gone down because of equal and uniform appraisals and a loss of revenue due to lower oil prices.

Eddie Arnold, Precicnt 1 county commissioner, said everything is going up with employees.

“We need to get a handle on costs with healthcare going up. We need to plug that hole because it’s eating us up,” he said. “We’ve got no help from Congress in overturning Obamacare.”

Sinegal said the county hasn’t raised taxes in 12 years unlike other governmental entities have done.

Branick said school districts are the largest portion of the tax bill sent out to residents, but there’s a constitutional requirement to provide for public education.

“There were minute differences of opinions on the commissioners court over the Cost Of Living Adjustments, but I think the commissioners court worked incredibly well together, even if the end result was not what each of them wanted,” Branick said is summarizing the process.

“We have the reserves to weather the storm through low oil prices, and rising healthcare and retirement costs. We’ve kept the tax rate at the same level for 10 years at a time there’s been significant increase in costs. We’ve done that because of sales tax revenues increase after the destruction of two storms (Hurricanes Rita and Ike). Our sales tax doubled, which was a pretty good increase.”