Commissioners OK tax hike to fund 2019 budget

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Smith County Commissioners gave their unanimous approval to a tax hike to fund the 2019 budget after the final public hearing on the budget was held Tuesday (Aug. 28) during the regular weekly commissioners’ meeting.

The adopted tax rate of .337311 is an increase of .007311 over last year’s tax rate. No one addressed the commissioners during the Tuesday meeting.

Oct. 1 marks the beginning of the new fiscal year and the new tax rate will be assessed on 2018 property values.

According to Smith County Appraisal District figures, in 2018 the average Smith County home has a value of $169,939, meaning before exemptions the tax bill for the average homeowner will rise from $547 to $573.

After approving the budget and the tax rate, commissioners then voted on a 2.9 percent cost of living raise for most county employees. Others, such as the county sheriff, tax assessor-collector, treasurer and county constables will receive higher pay increases.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Terry Phillips, who represents the Lindale area, cast the lone vote against the pay increase.

“I’d like to say again I agree with this salary scale, the 2.9 percent increase, but there are a few salaries I did not like so I can’t vote for those,’’ he said.

Phillips also noted he was against the commissioners’ pay hike.

“I said I’d never vote for those so I can’t vote for this,’’ Phillips said.

Sheriff Larry Smith will have his pay increased by $12,000 for a base salary of just over $103,000 while tax assessor-collector Gary Barber will also see a pay hike for a base salary of $88,000.

County constables after their $4,400 increase will earn $60,000 and county treasurer Kelli White will receive a $3,000 increase for a base salary of just over $70,000.

Prior to the budget vote, County Judge Nathaniel Moran discussed the thinking that went into the budget process.

“We wanted to make sure that number one our employees, who we value greatly, were taken care of,’’ he said, referring to the county adding $150 to the employees’ insurance coverage, bringing it to a total of $820 per employee per month. “This isn’t something we can do every year, but we wanted to bear the burden this year.’’

The 2019 tax hike is related specifically to the debt service on the road and bridge bond which was approved by county voters in November 2017. The $39.5 million bond measure will fund a six-year Road and Bridge Strategic Plan.

Moran said the commissioners have heeded the voters’ wishes when the road and bridge bond package passed.

“This gave us an opportunity to reinforce that we are committed to what the voters approved last year,’’ he said. “We are dedicated to being faithful to what our voters asked us to do.’’

In 2018, the county sold the first round of bonds for $12.5 million and officials feel another $12.5 million in bonds will be sold during 2019.

Moran also noted the county will dedicate more than $1.3 million to new election equipment.

“In this budget, we wanted to make sure every citizen understands elections are a top priority,’’ he said, noting $750,000 was spent last year for new voting machines. “This year, we’ve moved $550,000 out of our reserve funds so that by next year you’ll see new election machines across Smith County.’’

Moran said these actions will help ensure an equitable voting process.

“This will make sure people have a reason to vote and that their votes are being cast the way they want them to be cast,’’ he said.

Additional initiatives included in the 2019 budget include increasing the funding for the Smith County Juvenile Services by $400,000 as well as providing shift differential pay and stipends for certain employees within the Sheriff’s Office for dispatch and detention positions to help with recruitment and retention.

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