Johnson County commissioners wrapped, for now, four straight days of budget talks on Thursday by cancelling the meeting that was planned for today.
Commissioners will reconvene at 9 a.m. Monday to take a record vote on the proposed property tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
“Life’s good in Johnson County,” County Judge Roger Harmon said.
Pending Monday’s record vote, and an official vote to be held later, commissioners plan to lower the county’s property tax rate by about 4.9 cents, a decrease of about 10 percent. The current rate of 47.2 cents per $100 of valuation may soon decrease to 43.3 cents. Commissioners said they hope to lower the rate further in the years ahead provided revenues and the economy remain strong.
All said Johnson County is experiencing its largest growth spurt in memory, a situation commissioner predict should continue, possibly increase, for the foreseeable future.
County Auditor Kirk Kirkpatrick noted that the county saw about $480 million in new construction last year compared to $379 million the year before and $270 million the year before that.
Kirkpatrick and commissioners credited growth and increased revenues. County fees, for example, increased by more than $1.5 million, interest, which increased from about $200,000 to about $1 million, representing a large chunk of that increase.
About 2 cents of the proposed tax decrease stems from commissioner’s decision to pay off the $2.3 million still owed on the Guinn Justice Center in cash from county reserve funds. A decision that, like the proposed tax rate, remains provisional until commissioners officially pass the new budget.
Harmon said commissioners hope to pay off another bond issue with a balance of about $2 million off next year provided county fund balances remain healthy.
Commissioner Jerry Stringer, earlier this week, called for addressing current employees before considering new hires.
To that end, commissioners have proposed a 3 percent COLA for current employees.
The proposed budget also includes 6.5 new employees, the .5 representing a part-time employee out of the 16 new employees requested by elected officials and department heads. The budget includes two new employees for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, a bailiff to assist with a new Child Protective Services Court, scheduled to open in January, and a new transport officer. Increased trips for inmates suffering mental health issues necessitated the need for an extra transport officer, Sheriff Adam King said.
The proposed budget also includes eight new patrol vehicles for the sheriff’s office and three new vehicles for investigators. Also included are additional vests for deputies and defibrillator for patrol vehicles.
“That’s a major help,” King said. “Our guys are already out rolling on patrol so, in emergency situations, they beat the ambulance to the scene a lot of times. If those AEDs help us save the life of one person it’s well worth it.”
The proposed budget includes new vehicles for public works as well.
Harmon and commissioners once again chided Texas legislators for enacting a growth cap of 3.5 percent, something they say will likely hamper the ability of counties and cities to grow and provide needed services in the years to come. The cap — which represents growth percentage, not a tax increase — does not take effect until next year.
“I think it’s been a good year,” Harmon said. “We’ll see what the legislature does to us next time they meet. Thankfully, they only meet every two years. But Johnson County has always been conservative when it comes to taxes and spending and we’re already taking care of business fine. I don’t understand how people in Austin can shove stuff down our throats when they don’t understand how things work here. It’s not one size fits all.”
“I don’t see anybody in the courtroom except Sheriff King,” Bailey said. “Even though I’ve extended an invite to [state representative and senators] to attend.
Commissioner Larry Woolley joked that the upcoming budget year and the future of Johnson County appear rosy in spite of recent legislative action.
“We have good schools, good quality of life and the county is a great place to live.” Woolley said. “The offset is, as more people move in, where going to have to serve those people and keep up with infrastructure and that’s going to come at a cost.”
Harmon concurred adding that changes in the laws addressing annexation now make it more difficult for cities to annex other than voluntarily.
“That means, all these new subdivisions being built in the county, that the county’s going to be responsible for taking care of those roads,” Harmon said.
Commissioner Kenny Howell challenged county cities and school districts to follow the county’s example.
“If we can cut 10 percent off our tax rate let’s see if everybody else can cut 10 percent off their’s too,” Howell said.