Nov 29 2015
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Commissioners unanimously voted to approve the proposed tax rate for Fiscal Year 2016, setting it at $.31620 per $100 valuation, which is just slightly below the current rate of $.31966.
The rate is the effective rate, which means that it will draw the same amount in revenue at that rate as the current rate drew for Fiscal Year 2015. That also means that there is no requirement to hold a public hearing on the proposed tax rate.
Commissioners also approved the 2016 proposed budget, however, not everyone on the Court voted in favor. Precinct 3 Commissioner Ron Wilson first moved that the proposed budget be amended to include a sixth clerk for the offices of the Justices of the Peace; the proposed budget only allows for four full time clerks and one floater.
The budget for those offices has continued to be a hot topic; the budget also proposes that while there is a 2 percent raise across the board for all county employees, the JPs are not included.
A salary survey done by Llano County Judge Mary Cunningham of 47 counties of like-size and number of justices indicated that Llano County has the highest paid JPs out of all of them. In addition, that survey showed that out of those, Llano County JPs collected less revenue than more than 20 of those studied.
Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 Era Marion, protested the proposed budget, arguing that reducing the number of staff would substantially effect the service given by their offices. "As a taxpayer," Marion said, "I believe that those who elected me would want me to fight for those services."
Llano County Citizen Ron Hewitt asked of the Court, "Are you continuing to look at ways to increase efficiencies as you cut costs? Are you continuing to listen to taxpayers? I am in favor of the proposed budget."
Llano County Constable Precinct 3 Bill Edwards and JP 3 Clerk Deb Evans both implored the Court to not approve the cuts. Both cited the constant flow of customers and heavy workload that they have witnessed.
Judge Cunningham refuted what she called 'misstatements' about the budget, including the idea that the Court is targeting the JP offices. She said that there have been several things shifted in the budget, as well as increases in the cost of benefits, indigent care, attorney fees for those who are indigent, increases in allocations to fire departments, and more.
Cunningham said, "we are trying to be responsible with our money."
Precinct 1 Commissioner Peter Jones added, "To summarize the result of this budget process, we must first look at the projected result of the current 2014/2015 fiscal year which ends September 30. The estimated reserves that Llano County budgeted to be held at September 30, 2015 was projected to be $3.3 million, but with good fiscal management the amount now estimated to be held in reserve at that date is $4.5 million, a $1.2 million positive variance due to less expenditures and a slightly higher revenue than budgeted. This positive result in the 2014/2015 fiscal year prepares the county for a positive starting point in preparing the 2015/2016 budget."
The proposed budget originally was set to give all county employees a 3 percent cost of living raise. The proposed budget now reflects a 2 percent cost of living raise, but still excludes the JPs from that raise. The Court has said that over the course of the year, they will be reviewing all county salaries to see that they are comparable to counties of the same size.
Commissioner Peter Jones told the Court that he would reject the raise for himself; the Judge also said she would reject her budgeted raise from the County.
The JPs currently make $52,242 annually. That is the same salary as the Commissioners, County Clerk, Treasurer and Tax Assessor. The 2 percent raise will bump those elected officials up to $53,287.
In earlier discussions, the County Attorney and Sheriff were set to be moved from their salaries of $55,517 and $54,992, respectively, to $60,000, bringing them into a midrange salary comparable to other counties like Llano.
The County Judge's salary, not including state stipends, is $55,816. Llano County Constables earn an annual salary of $38,354; with the cost of living raise, that will increase to $39,121.
Commissioner Wilson told the Court that he would reject his raise as well, but wants the $1,045 allocated to the JPs.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Don Moss supported the proposed budget, adding, "I don't like letting people go, but I believe that the judge and commissioners have a responsibility to the taxpayers."
A public hearing on the FY2016 Budget will be held on September 14 at 9am at the Llano County Law Enforcement Building. The budget and tax rate will be adopted at that time.
Commissioners also approved a contract with Synovial Solutions for $32,000 for a 5 year contract to provide GPS systems in 27 Llano County vehicles. The systems will monitor the whereabouts, speed and length of time spent idling, as well as systems checks; oil, tires, brakes, etc. The Sheriff, Chief Deputy and Judge will have access to the system for monitoring purposes.
Two Llano County residents spoke to the Court on non-agenda items. One, Rick Hughes, a firefighter with Buchanan Dam VFD, concerned Commissioner Linda Raschke. Hughes alleged that the commissioner failed to yield to the right of way of a fire vehicle in route, and in addition 'blocked' Hughes and Buchanan Dam VFD fire chief Mark Hudson at the fire station on the way to a call. Because it was public comments on non-agenda items, Raschke was unable to respond to the complaint.
Another Llano County citizen, Janet Frauson