NEWS HEADLINES

Commissioners dig into budget

By Kristen Tribe | Published Saturday, August 23, 2014

County commissioners have proposed an almost $70 million budget for fiscal year 2015, and Auditor Ann McCuiston hit the financial highlights in a budget workshop Thursday.

The bulk of the discussion centered around declining a state stipend for the judge’s salary, but McCuiston gave the details behind other significant numbers.

She said there was a slight increase in autopsy and inquest expenses, from $120,000 to $130,000. It was noted that Wise County could use either the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office or the Dallas County ME, but Dallas County is the office of choice.

County Judge Glenn Hughes said he tried to compare pricing between the two offices, but there wasn’t much difference.

He asked Justice of the Peace Jan Morrow why the Dallas office is used instead of the one in Fort Worth, and she said it was the preference of District Attorney Greg Lowery.

“We could use Tarrant or Dallas, but with anything criminal, the district attorney has asked that we use Dallas County,” she said. “They feel much more comfortable with any testimony is their reasoning, so we try to go along with the district attorney.”

“So is it that Dallas is a little more technical or professional?” the judge asked.

“Mr. Lowery could probably give you a little more insight into his reasoning,” she said, “but he prefers (Dallas), especially on the criminal ones.”

ENGINEERS/CONSULTANTS

The proposed budget also includes an increase for engineers and consultants due to the continued rising cost of Kimley-Horn engineering.

“I had asked (county engineer) Chad (Davis) if he would stay in touch with them and keep track of what’s going on with them because their costs have doubled in the last three or four years,” McCuiston said.

Davis told commissioners that in 2008, subdivision work dropped drastically, but they’ve “seen a lot more come across the desk” the last couple of years. He’s also started assisting with construction inspections to cut down on the firm’s trips to the county and therefore, their bill.

The FY ’15 budget includes $101,700 for engineers and consultants. Last year $80,000 was budgeted, and the county has spent $92,171 to date. In fiscal year 2013, $112,347 was spent on engineers and consultants, compared to $77,583 in fiscal year 2012.

OIL AND GAS

McCuiston also noted they anticipate a significant drop in oil and gas royalties.

Last year the county budgeted $800,000, but it’s received only $400,199.67 to date. They have budgeted $550,000 for FY ’15.

TEEN COURT

Hughes noted the proposed budget does not include funding for teen court because the group was disorganized, and they didn’t have clear goals. In fiscal year 2014, $18,000 was allotted to the organization.

“They had two or three different names, and I was kind of confused as to who they even were,” the judge said.

Commissioners attorney Thomas Aaberg backed up the judge, saying the documentation was confusing. The group that approached the county for funding is Wise Area Teen Court and helpers (WATCh).

“I told them that if they’d get their numbers together and information and tell us what they do, and the benefits, we’d be glad to come back to this,” he said.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns also noted the justices of the peace would need to utilize the group to warrant giving them county money.

The only JP present, Morrow, said she doesn’t have enough cases to recommend to teen court, and those she could recommend often don’t want to participate when they learn of the commitment it requires. She said the city courts utilize it more often.

It was also noted that there are now two teen court groups in the county.

Other items of note:

  • $17,000 for IT consultants
  • $500 auto allowance increase for justices of the peace
  • $3,000 increase for Wise County Child Welfare Board
  • $300,000 in cash reserves
  • an increase for election judges (Read more in next midweek’s Messenger.)

This year’s proposed budget is based on the current tax rate of 37.89 cents per $100 property valuation. If approved, this means property owners would not pay more in taxes unless the value of their property increased.

Commissioners will have public hearings on the tax rate at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2, and 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5, in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur.

They are scheduled to adopt a tax rate and budget Sept. 8.

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