McLennan County commissioners plan to drop the tax rate by 2 cents for the upcoming fiscal year, a rate expected to bring in about $4.1 million more than last year because of increases to property value.

County commissioners will vote Tuesday on the proposed 2018 tax rate of 50.5293 cents per $100 of property value. The 2017 tax rate is at 52.5293 cents per $100 of property value, down by a penny from 2016.

Commissioners Will Jones and Kelly Snell pushed during a meeting Thursday for the court to consider the effective tax rate, which is 49.6898 cents per $100 of property value. The effective rate would bring in the same general fund revenue as this year’s tax rate.

County leaders should set the example with hopes school districts and cities would follow suit in sticking to the effective rate, Snell said.

County Auditor Stan Chambers said commissioners have already included $109 million in expenditures for next year’s budget, exceeding the $102.6 for this year.

If the court continues to cut taxes while increasing expenditures, commissioners will eventually have to dip into savings and continue to whittle away at those funds, Chambers said.

“I’m not against cutting taxes, but you have to be careful because you can’t raise them as easily as you can cut them,” Chambers said.

Debt

Discussion on debt payments also split the court for much of Thursday’s meeting, but commissioners reached a consensus by the end of the day.

Jones and McLennan County Judge Scott Felton pushed to defer any payments on the county’s long-term debt for another year. The court eventually agreed to put $2 million toward paying down the $25 million debt owed to the Texas County & District Retirement System, issued by a previous court.

“You’re choosing to spend $2 million that doesn’t go to any good or service or economic development,” Jones said.

Chambers said the debt must be paid off one way or another.

Savings

Felton said he wants the county’s savings to remain strong, and the court decided last year to increase its emergency reserves incrementally over the next four years. The process started last year, with commissioners keeping 29.23 percent of annual expenditures in the fund balance, up from 25 percent in recent years. Felton said he hopes the county reaches 33 percent.

County leaders are afraid state-level decisions will force counties without a strong unassigned fund balance to raise taxes as the state Legislature limits local control and adds expenditures counties are required to cover, Felton said.

Chambers said 33 percent of annual expenditures is a good target, and any more is likely to be unnecessary.

A strong fund balance also helps a county’s bond rating, Felton said.

The proposed budget would leave $32.46 million as a projected ending fund balance for the fiscal year, or 30.96 percent of total expenditures.

Department heads

Commissioners on Thursday also agreed to two more raises for department heads.

Human Resources Director Amanda Talbert was the only department head considered Thursday who requested a raise. Her salary will go from $83,317 to $86,503.

IT Director Lisa Fetsch’s salary will go from $88,698 to $94,017. Several department heads are already being paid the maximum amount allowed for their position, but Fetsch’s raise moves her to the midpoint of the range for her position. Commissioners debated whether the salary for that position is too high.

No decision on the budget is final until the document is officially approved, which is set to happen Aug. 22. The county auditor will submit a proposed budget to the county clerk’s office Tuesday, and the document will be posted online for the public to review.

Salaries for McLennan County department heads

Source: McLennan County Commissioners Court

  2018 budgeted 2018 budgeted +2.5% COLA Current salary Current +2.5% COLA Requested increase Approved (proposed) 2018 salary
HR Director Amanda Talbert $84,393 $86,503 $83,317 $85,400 $86,502 $86,503
Facilities Director Herschel Miller $84,393  $86,503  $73,045  $74,871 none  $73,045 
Maintenance of Equipment Director Wayne Canaday $76,014  $77,914  $76,014  $77,914  none  $77,914 
County Engineer Zane Dunnam $102,527  $105,090  $98,800  $101,270  none  $105,090 
Elections Director Kathy Van Wolfe  $90,378  $92,637  $90,378  $92,637  none  $92,637 
Purchasing Director Ken Bass $84,393  $86,503  $84,393  $86,503  none  $86,503 
IT Director Lisa Fetsch  $103,825  $106,421  $88,698  $90,915  none  $94,017 
Associate Judge Virgil Bain $88,134  $90,337  $88,134  $90,337  none  $90,337 
Welfare/Health Director Eva Hamby  $79,045  $81,021  $79,045  $81,021  none  $81,021 
Veteran Services Director Steve Hernandez $54,523  $55,886  $54,523  $55,886  none  $55,886 

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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