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Tax rate decrease proposed

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, August 15, 2018
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Wise County commissioners Monday proposed a decrease in the tax rate at the recommendation of County Judge J.D. Clark.

The proposed rate for the 2018-19 fiscal year is 36 cents per $100 property valuation, 1.89 cents less than last year.

“If we stay at the same tax rate, we’re up 13.5 percent [due to increased property values], and that’s too much,” Clark said. “I think by going to the flat 36 cents, we’re being responsible to taxpayers and helping moderate the increase, but still able to do some new things and address some concerns that have come up.”

The 36-cent tax rate will help fund a proposed $32.9 million budget. Clark said 40 percent of the budget, about $13.3 million, will be spent on public safety – the sheriff’s office, jail, emergency medical services, fire marshal, emergency management and fire departments.

The proposed budget also includes:

  • a 5 percent pay increase for patrol deputies and special enforcement at the sheriff’s office. Clark said turnover among this group has been 35 to 40 percent in the last year. Sheriff Lane Akin hopes the pay increase will help him retain officers.
  • a new clerical position at the district attorney’s office. The DA’s office will contribute $25,000 to the position from one of its special funds.
  • reinstating a field position for 911 addressing.
  • creating a part-time “floater” job for the tax assessor collector’s office to rotate between the Decatur, Bridgeport and Boyd offices as needed. The position was added to help with the increased workload as the office takes over tax collections in 2019 for all taxing entities in the county.
  • an adjustment in pay so all three court coordinators make the same amount.
  • an adjustment in bailiff pay to match lieutenant pay per a previous county agreement.

The budget also includes a pay increase for all county employees of either 3 or 4 percent. Clark said if the commissioners approve a 3 percent raise, the dependent insurance coverage could remain at 50 percent, but if they’d like to give employees a 4 percent raise, dependent coverage will need to be cut to 40 percent.

At a previous meeting Clark recommended cutting dependent coverage because he, along with Treasurer Katherine Hudson and Auditor Ann McCuiston said paying 50 percent for dependent coverage is not sustainable long-term.

“Staying at 50 percent really worries us,” he said. “What we don’t want to do is just one year hit a brick wall and just say we can’t do dependent coverage at all. That’s a big pill to swallow for employees.

“I think we need to find something more sustainable for employees.”

Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns asked if they could put this decision off until the next meeting. The budget balances with either choice, so Clark OK’d waiting until the Aug. 27 meeting.

Whether commissioners decide to fund the raise at 3 percent or 4 percent, it will be presented to each department as a lump sum, to be distributed by the department head to individual employees as he or she sees fit. If approved, this will be the first countywide pay increase in five years.

Adjustments within the budget, but that did not result in an increase or decrease in funding, include:

  • animal control officers moved back under the sheriff’s supervision. The animal shelter will remain a stand-alone facility under the direct supervision of Cathy Sides, who is supervised by the county judge.
  • radio tower expenses moved to the buildings and grounds budget.
  • part-time money in Clark’s non-departmental budget but used by County Court-at-Law No. 2 Judge Stephen Wren was moved to Wren’s budget.

The budget is scheduled to be adopted Sept. 1.

TAX RATE HEARINGS

There will be two public hearings on the proposed county tax rate and budget:

  • 6:30 p.m. Aug. 23, at Weatherford College Wise County
  • 8 a.m. Aug. 27, in the third-floor conference room of the Wise County Courthouse

The budget is scheduled to be adopted Sept. 10. It goes into effect Oct. 1.

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