If there are two words that can scare property owners to the bone, it is “tax hike”.
But just as a necessary spoonful of medicine can be bitter, so it can be to swallow higher taxes.
Such is the case in Gregg County, where a proposed new fiscal year property tax increase would primarily fund the necessary law enforcement pay increases.
District Judge Bill Stoudt bluntly explained why the tax hike – which would be the first in 18 years – is necessary.
“We have proposed restructuring the salaries of the command staff, patrol and prison guards,” he said, adding that county law enforcement salaries have fallen behind other area officials. “We lost people to the cities because they pay more. Today we’re short of 50 prison guards because the starting salary was $ 32,000, and we’re increasing that to $ 37,000.
“That part of the equation is going to cost more money, period.”
The proposed tax rate would increase from 26.25 cents per $ 100 valuation to 29.75 cents per $ 100 valuation, an increase of 13.3%. About 2 cents of the 3.5-cent increase would be used on law enforcement salaries.
Protesters against the proposal could point to the county’s robust reserves to pay the higher salaries.
That fund is around $ 40 million, according to Stoudt, which is about 40% of the budget. (Recommendations from the official reserve fund require 25 to 30% of the budget.)
Stoudt put forward several reasons for not using the reserve funds for the increases. One of those reasons is that keeping a healthy savings account enables the county to advance road projects with the Texas Department of Transportation. He also mentioned that the county has been forced to use reserve funds in recent years and he doesn’t want it to become a habit.
Stoudt’s arguments make sense.
The strongest reason is that it is simply bad business to pay for recurring costs like salary increases through reserves.
Stoudt also identified other areas that contribute to the need for a tax increase: adjustments to the cost of living for non-public security workers; higher health and liability insurance costs; higher costs for penniless legal defense; higher cost of unreimbursed needy health care; higher overtime costs in prison due to lack of staff; and rising prison costs.
The judge asked if “milk and bread” tasted more than 18 years ago and then answered his own question: “The answer would be yes. Most of the time, the problem we have here is that you would say, ‘You have to control your costs.’ The costs we are dealing with are difficult to control. “
Final approval of the tax rate will be considered after a public hearing on Monday at 9 a.m. in the Commissioner’s courtroom at Gregg County Courthouse.