Don Lymbery

Don Lymbery

Angelina County Commissioners may raise property taxes using a disaster declaration provision in the Texas Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act of 2019, which capped revenue increases at 3.5%.

During the 86th Legislature, cities across the state — and county commissioners — opposed the institution of the 3.5% revenue cap. Several argued that if a disaster were to hit and end other sources of much-needed funding,this bill would cut them off at the knees. Those officials said the bill would force municipalities to raise rates to cover the cost of basic operations.

Less than 12 months later municipalities across the state and nation are facing severe budget shortfalls as a result of the coronavirus pandemic

Angelina County Commissioners are considering a tax rate of 44 cents per $100 valuation (.44212), which is half a cent higher than the 43 cents per $100 valuation (.43712) approved for 2020.

Commissioners will deliberate an order “directing that the voter-approved tax rate be calculated at 8% in the manner provided for a special taxing unit” at Tuesday’s regular court meeting, according to the posted meeting agenda. This is a provision in the tax reform bill that permits leniency in the face of disasters without triggering an election.

“With the Legislature’s changes last year, the way the county is allowed to do business and with no new revenue and voter approval rates being capped at 3.5%, we would not be able to even go to this point, if we weren’t allowed to declare an exception to that this year because of the governor’s emergency orders,” County Judge Don Lymbery said.

The county would have been unable to retain the current tax rate with the tax reform bill without the governor’s disaster declaration, county auditor Janice Cordray said.

Pct. 3 commissioner Terry Pitts said people need to remember this when they vote for legislators in the coming elections.

While the new rate would increase revenues above the 3.5% state-mandated cap, it comes nowhere near the 8% cap that was used until 2020, Cordray said.

The budget has not officially been proposed. Lymbery told commissioners he needed to have a proposed budget submitted by Friday.

Commissioners will reconvene at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Angelina County Courthouse Annex. The meeting will be streaming live on angelinacounty.net, YouTube and The Lufkin Daily News Facebook page.

The county is facing a $147,869 budget shortfall despite cuts made during budget discussions.

Monday’s meeting also highlighted another revenue mishap. In the two previous meetings commissioners were looking at a budget that failed to allocate nearly $1.2 million that is being used to pay off current county debt. Meaning: they thought they had more to spend than they did.

When this issue was recognized, Cordray moved those funds, but it left the county in the red, forcing them to begin cutting what commissioners discussed in their first two meetings.

This means that county employees will likely not be given the $2,080 raise commissioners wanted to provide in 2021. This would mark four years that county employees have gone without a raise.

Raises for constables are still on the table, but may be reduced. Pct. 1 Commissioner Greg Harrison opposed this decision in light of every other county employee losing their pay raises. They took out the constable radio equipment, Lymbery said.

This also means that many departments will go without the new positions they’d requested, including the Angelina County Sheriff’s Office. There was talk of a narcotics investigator being added to the payroll, this isn’t likely anymore, Lymbery said.

However, the county is still wanting to move ahead with the human resources department discussed at the last meeting. Pct. 4 Commissioner Bobby Cheshire again expressed support for this position.

Donations to charitable organizations also are on the chopping block. This was a last-ditch option before raising taxes, Lymbery told commissioners. This includes the Alliance for Children and the Alcohol & Drug Abuse Council of Deep East Texas.

“This is not a year that we are going to be able to donate,” Lymbery said. “Before we raised any taxes, at all … we wanted to make sure to get any of the money out that we could. We knew this was going to be hurtful, this was going to be tough.”

The budget also does not include the suggested revenue increase for commissioners. At the last budget meeting they’d discussed allocating a larger part of the taxes collected to commissioners, but this was not discussed on Monday.

Jess Huff's email address is jess.huff@lufkindailynews.com.