The Johnson County Commissioners Court adopted the budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year during a Tuesday called meeting. The new budget year begins Oct. 1.
Commissioners also announced that they will hold a public hearing on then vote on the proposed property tax rate for the new fiscal year at 9 a.m. Sept. 27 at the Johnson County Courthouse, 2 Main St. in Cleburne.
The proposed tax rate, 42 cents per $100 of valuation, represents a half cent decrease from the current rate.
Commissioners for the past two years had kept the tax rate the same. Three years ago they lowered it by 5 cents. Continued growth and the healthy state of county finances made such possible, commissioners said.
County Judge Roger Harmon, during earlier budget workshop sessions last month, noted that taxpayers have been hit with large property valuations thanks to growth, inflation as well as other factors and are rightfully upset. Counties have no control over property valuations but do set the tax rate.
“I hope that the taxpayers of the county will appreciate a tax rate decrease,” Harmon said at the time. “We’re hearing people talk about taxes being so high, and I don’t blame them.”
Commissioner Larry Woolley said that the proposed rate, if adopted, will be the lowest rate adopted since he came onto the court.
“We had it at 36 cents once during the natural gas boom days,” Harmon said. “But that went away and we had to raise it.”
Before commissioners voted on the budget, Harmon read a list of last minute changes most of which were salary adjustments due to rounding or previous miscalculation though the changes also included uniform allowance changes for constables, $150,000 additional funding to the county’s capital murder fund and other changes.
The last in response to the April 14 arrest of Jerry Don Elders on capital murder and other charges after Elders allegedly shot a Burleson police officer and killed a Burleson woman.
Johnson County District Attorney Dale Hanna in July announced that he intends to seek the death penalty against Elders marking the first time Johnson County has done so since 2012.
The budget includes employee pay raises, hiring of additional employees and purchase of new equipment.
“I think this is a good budget this year,” Harmon said. “It’s always a good year when we can give our employees raises and propose a lower tax rate.”
Johnson County Sheriff Adam King thanked commissioners for their support of the sheriff’s office in the budget.
“We’re blessed,” King said. “The court’s support of law enforcement is very obvious. The court’s been good to us this year and got us a lot of equipment we need that will put us in a position to go out and better do our jobs.”
Woolley echoed the commissioner’s support.
“With so much unrest going on in other places our position has been clear to, as one of my friends put it, defend the police instead of defunding the police. And, with the growth we’re seeing, that’s also going to be needed in the years ahead.”
“Texans support police,” Harmon said. “People want to feel safe and I feel that’s a big reason we see so many people moving here from those other places, especially those places where you see the looting and burning and nothing being done. Sheriff, I couldn’t imagine your deputies sitting back and watching people loot and burn our cities.”
Recovery Act funds
Woolley also broached the $34 million in American Recovery Act funding coming to the county.
Woolley, and Commissioner Kenny Howell, discussed whether some of those funds might be used toward already budgeted projects including renovation of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and the Burleson Sub Courthouse.
The funding is meant to help governmental entities address COVID-19 mitigation and recovery costs.
“The question has to be asked, does it go back toward mitigating COVID-19?” Woolley said.
Clarification is still needed but according to what Woolley dubbed the oxymoron of interim final guidelines on use of the funds they may be available for such purposes.
The funds might not be available for construction of a planned new dispatch center for the county, Woolley added.
Harmon wasn’t so sure.
“The way I understand it is if it’s directly related to COVID-19,” Harmon said. “The dispatch we have now they’re in their elbow to elbow. If one of them gets COVID-19 they’re all going to get it.”
The question remains open to interpretation and discrepancy at this point, Woolley said.
“Well, next court we’re scheduled to vote on going out for qualifications for someone to manage [the county’s American Recovery Act funds],” Harmon said. “But on the call center, we have enough in our budget to cover it either way so I think we need to march on with that.”