No increase in proposed tax rate

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, August 16, 2017

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Wise County commissioners Monday proposed keeping the tax rate the same as last year – 37.89 cents per $100 property valuation for fiscal year 2018.

It will fund the $64.1 million budget, which was also proposed in Monday’s meeting.

“It’s very similar to our current budget,” County Judge J.D. Clark said. “It didn’t change much. I guess in terms of most significant changes … I’ve got someone retiring out of the maintenance department, and we’re not going to fill that position.”

Allocation of the tax dollars was proposed to also stay the same with 34.64 cents per $100 valuation going to general fund and 3.25 cents to road and bridge.

The road and bridge allocation was slashed last year from 6.5 cents per $100 valuation to 3.25 cents to boost the general fund.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said this method is unsustainable. They’ve dipped into road and bridge reserves to make up the difference, but Auditor Ann McCuiston reminded commissioners they will eventually run out of reserves.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White also expressed concern about cutting road and bridge for a second year.

“My budget is going down $100,000 this year, if I accept it,” he said. “I’m doing all I can right now to keep my guys working because of the money situation.

“If I take another $100,000 off that next year, what can we do for our taxpayers?” he asked. “I know the tax rate looks good, but whenever they want us to re-do their roads, how can we explain to them we can’t? It’s hard to do year after year.

“I’ve got one line item right here – chip rock. I was cut in half to $15,000,” he said. “That’s enough to chip 10 miles of road and that’s it. Now where do I justify using that 10 miles of road when you’ve got 232 (miles)? It’s just a concern of mine when I go from $32,000 for chip rock to $15,000.”

Commissioners grumbled about the possibility of being able to only patch potholes in the next year and not improve roads.

Clark said citizens are already paying more in taxes because most property values increased, and that’s why he wants to keep the tax rate flat.

“None of us have said it’s pretty,” Clark said. “We’re just trying to …”

White interrupted him.

“And it’s getting uglier every year,” he said.

Clark said everyone needs to “think big picture.”

“We have to look at other things that are going on and that we are making a $3 million debt payment [for capital expenditures] and that’s soon going to go away and give us an opportunity to do a few things differently,” he explained. “What are we going to do for capital? What are we going to do for you guys?” Clark said these issues have been discussed this summer with plans being made for the future and how to make the road and bridge fund “whole again.”

“That’s one of the hard things about doing this, as you’re no strangers to, everyone’s got more needs,” Clark said. “I think we’re weathering the storm the best we can.”

The proposed rate is slightly higher than the effective rate, 37.56 cents per $100 valuation, which would raise the same amount of tax dollars as fiscal year 2017 with the property values for 2018.

Because the proposed tax rate is higher than this year’s effective rate, more tax dollars will be raised, and commissioners must hold a series of public hearings on the tax rate and budget.

The first public hearing will be 8:30 a.m. Aug. 28, just prior to the regular commissioners meeting. The second public hearing is 7 p.m. Sept. 7. Both will be held at the Wise County Courthouse.

Clark said his goal was to adopt the budget at the Sept. 11 meeting.

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