Angelina County Commissioners and other county leaders have held multiple meetings over the last few weeks to discuss and adjust the proposed 2020 budget and the tax rate necessary to support that budget.
Commissioners are considering a proposed tax rate of 50 cents per $100 valuation for 2020, which would bring in an additional $4,099,361. Of that, 384,740.83 is from new property added to the tax roll.
The proposed rate is about 10 cents more than the effective rate of 40 cents per $100 valuation and 7 cents more than the original proposed rate of 43 cents per $100. That rate was an 8.96% increase in revenue from last year’s budget and would have raised $1,454,064.
While the numbers haven’t been finalized, the county could see a 25.25% increase in tax revenue for fiscal year 2020 over 2019, budget documents from county auditor Janice Corday’s office show.
The proposed tax hike would allow commissioners to meet the requests of other county offices while also providing additional funds for road repairs and law enforcement, the two topics county residents complain about frequently.
Commissioners entertained those alternative tax rate options because of another frequent complaint: taxes are already too high.
A public hearing scheduled on Thursday was canceled due to a lack of proper notice. It’s been rescheduled for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 16. A second public hearing is set for Sept. 20.
Those two hearings will be the public’s opportunity to weigh in on the matter. The real question is, which members of the public will show up?
An online poll by The Lufkin Daily News in December 2018 asked respondents what they would most like to see Judge Don Lymbery and the commissioners tackle first in 2019. More than 58% said they would like to see the county roads repaired. Pay raises for deputies came in a distant second at 20.4%.
A few weeks ago, the poll question was, ‘‘Would you support a bond for road repairs in Angelina County?’’ The most popular response, with 47.7% of the vote was, ‘‘I would not support anything that will create additional taxes, even to repair roads.’’
Part of the problem is that only a portion — $7.2 million in 2018 — of the total county budget went toward actual county issues such as infrastructure and county employment, according to county records. That covers salaries and employee benefits, the road and bridge fund and administrative costs.
Another $10.8 million of the county’s budget went toward the county jail, public health and welfare, and judicial and prosecution services in 2018, according to county records. These are constitutionally required expenditures for health care, indigent defense, jails, mental health, juvenile probation departments and county collection programs. These are all examples of unfunded state or federal mandates, but the county doesn’t receive any state or federal funding for them.
“An unfunded mandate is a statute or regulation by the state that requires local governments to enact new policies or programs, which costs them money, without any new funding to implement them,” state Sen. Robert Nichols said late last year.
Nichols is a former mayor and state Rep. Trent Ashby was on the Lufkin school board. Both have a record advocating against unfunded mandates and believe there is a straightforward solution: The mandates can be funded or they can be repealed.
State lawmakers didn’t do that during the 86th legislative session, which leaves county residents with three choices, sort of: Residents can pay more in taxes to fund the much-needed changes or repairs; commissioners may decide against raising taxes or making any of the repairs on residents’ wish lists; or residents can move.
Here’s something else for residents to remember. According to Cordray, the proposed tax rate of .50250 is less than the rollback rate of .520855. The rollback rate is the maximum rate allowed by law without voter approval. But because the proposed rate is lower than the rollback rate, residents can’t block it from taking effect.
And even with a rate increase, Angelina County would still have the third-lowest tax rate in Deep East Texas, despite having the highest population, according to county documents.
“If we’re going to have a growing county, we’ve got to continually provide more services all the time,” Lymbery said. “We cannot stick with the same amount of money if want to provide these services.”