Final vote is set for later this month

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Jim Wells County Correspondent

Jim Wells County Commissioners took a record vote on Tuesday to stay at the proposed effective tax rate of $0.6580 for the 2008 proposed county budget.

The effective tax rate is the rate necessary to collect the same amount of tax revenue as last year. Last year's tax rate was $0.7058. The final vote on both the tax rate and the budget will take place later this month.

The county is facing $401,000 worth of added budget requests after the latest round of budget workshops held last week. This amount includes increases in salaries, office supplies and an across-the-board five percent cost of living increase for 2008. The proposed budget numbers supplied by County Auditor Eladio Gonzalez and County Judge L. Arnoldo Saenz were originally based on last year's tax rate.

The numbers provided in the proposed budget on Tuesday included calculations using the effective tax rate for this year, which created an increase in the general fund budget of $580,842, which could help cover the cost of the requests received this year.

Also in the general fund budget, the projection for the estimated ending balance as of December 2008 shows there may be as much as $323,000 left in the budget.

Commissioners said they hope that amount, along with what is left from the $580,842 after paying for departmental requests, could be placed in the county reserve. Gonzalez said there is currently $1.5 million in reserve.

Saenz said the court will continue to meet to review budget requests and see if the $401,000 amount can be lowered.

Because the county proposes not to increase taxes above the effective rate, Saenz said it would not be necessary to hold a series of public meetings on the tax rate, as mandated by the state for entities that raise their tax rates. Precinct 3 Commissioner Wally Alanis said that although there are numerous road problems at hand, the county should hold the tax rate.

"It's hard to circumvent the people and their hardships," Alanis said. "We have the opportunity to increase the tax rate, but I don't think it would be fair."

Gonzalez said during the meeting that for the last four quarters, there has been an increase in sales tax revenues, and he budgeted expecting that trend to continue.

Saenz said the county could look into taking the money that comes in from those revenues and push it towards the Road and Bridge budget.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Zenaida Sanchez said she has five roads that are caliche that she wishes were not. After consistent summer rains, her crew continually had to take caliche out to put on the roads after the rains washed the caliche away.

"I would love to see additional monies come our way for road and bridge," Sanchez said.

Both she and Commissioner Ventura Garcia agreed there needed to be more equality in the budget when it came to administrative costs.

Both commissioners said that administrative costs should be considered separately from the other budgetary concerns of the funds.

For the small precincts, a larger percentage of their overall budget goes to administrative costs, and then what is left goes toward actual maintenance.

Commissioners who receive more funds because of larger area, do not have to spend as large a percentage of their budget on administrative costs.

"Twenty five percent of my budget goes to administrative costs. For Wally or Javier, it's only 10 percent," Garcia said.

Saenz told the court he and Gonzalez would sit to discuss administrative cost considerations for the R&B funds.