Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Jones surprised his fellow McLennan County Commissioners on Tuesday by voting against the proposed 2019-20 budget that leaves the tax rate unchanged but could increase the tax burden for property owners who have seen jumps in their appraisals.
County Judge Scott Felton, who voted with the 3-2 majority, said in an interview that Jones’ vote disappoints him, coming as it did after the court had spent months crafting the budget and tweaking numbers. He said Jones had not expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed tax rate before Tuesday’s meeting. Jones and Precinct 1 Commissioner Kelly Snell voted to reject the $118 million budget and the tax rate that went with it, a rate that remains the same but generates about $6 million more in revenue.
Jones said appraised taxable property values rose an average of 6.5% countywide. Maintaining the current tax rate of a little more than 48.5 cents per $100 of property value would be tantamount to approving a 6.5% tax increase, he said.
“I think we owe it to taxpayers to consider a tax cut of at least 2.5%,” Jones said. “We have worked hard on this budget, accounting for taking over the Jack Harwell Detention Center, inflation and projected growth. We raised spending only 2.7%. I just really don’t think we should be asking taxpayers to preserve a 33% fund balance.”
Commissioners have a stated goal of keeping 33% of the county’s projected revenues “unassigned,” meaning cash would be available to cover unexpected expenses or emergencies. Felton said the fund prevents “knee-jerk” reactions and bolsters the county’s bond rating, which allows it to issue bonds with lower interest rates.
Snell early in the process said he opposed a budget that included a cost-of-living adjustment for retired county employees. His vote Tuesday came as no surprise, Felton said.
But Jones’ vote nay was another story, Felton said.
“What disappoints me is that he was disingenuous to the court during the budgeting process,” Felton said. “It comes across as a political stunt. That’s my opinion. I’m very disappointed. For someone to vote against a good proposal for political reasons, that’s just a real injustice to taxpayers.
“We actually voted on a proposed tax rate some time back, the reason being that if someone had a problem with it, we’d go back into a budget session and work things out. Anyway, Commissioner Jones voted for it then. Then today, for a vote to come up on a budget that has your fingerprints all over it, and you vote against it. … It’s disappointing.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry said Jones’ vote “caught me off-guard.”
“I wish he had brought up these issues sooner,” Perry said. “We’ve pretty much known since June there would be an increase (in property values). It’s frustrating, just creates chaos and a little confusion.”