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JDF expenses reason for property tax increase

Will continue as a smaller 48-bed facility 

 

by Carolyn Kahant for TaxpayersWatch

Posted 9/21/05

 

In September, Commissioners approved a $19.5 million budget for next year that will increase the '05-'06 tax rate to .3896 per $100, an increase of l.75 cents. This should raise an additional $360,000. At the same time, the budget includes the elimination of approximately 15 county jobs, with taxpayers being told they would have to accept a reduced level of services. 

 

With property appraisal increases already giving Kerr County $1 million more than last year, why did three commissioners feel the need to take these surprising measures? Commissioner Dave Nicholson, who has argued since May that Kerr County government is overstaffed, cast the lone dissenting vote based on his opposition to the tax increase.

 

One likely reason for the vote is the tax cap that requires any increase above that amount to be put before the voters for their approval. By making small, incremental increases that remain under the tax cap every other year or so, the commissioners can avoid the ballot box.

 

Another reason is that the new budget includes the continued operation of the county-owned Juvenile Detention Facility. Even though down-sized to a 48-bed pre-and post-adjudicated center using only one building (the old one), and cutting seven staff positions, the facility is projected to run a deficit of $288,000 next year.              

 

Other new costs in the budget are a 3.2% across-the-board cost of living increase ($235,000) and a $1.25 million computer & software system to be paid over 5 years ($250,000 annually). It is hoped that higher productivity from this technology will more than pay for itself in time.

 

But the defining number is the $1,250,000 the Juvenile Detention Facility cost the county this year. Add to that the $474,000 annual debt obligation payment and you can see where the problem lies. So why has Commissioner Bill Williams so consistently pointed the finger of blame at the over-65 property tax-rate freeze enacted last year, which will cost a relatively measley $140,000 in lost revenues? At least we know that the $140,000 will stay with taxpayers of Kerr County, while much of the JDF money has disappeared into thin air!

 

Williams, who voted for the purchase and continued operation of the juvenile facility, but was not 100% in favor of the tax freeze, began in April to connect a "tight budget year" with the over-65 freeze. He has continued up until his latest September statement that the tax freeze was enacted "in a blind haste to rush to judgment."  Wasn't the juvenile facility purchase much more of a blind rush, with commissioners not even inquiring into the condition of the buildings?

Not only was there no commercial appraisal of what was being purchased, there was no future financial projection prepared, except for a simple budget prepared by Administrator Becky Harris which was based on an impossible 100% occupancy.

 

In addition, the Kerrville Daily Times has written editorials that condemn the over-65 tax freeze as the cause of present and future budget problems. On September 9, they editorialized that the $140,000 "is a factor in the proposed 1.75 tax rate increase and loss of more than a dozen county jobs."  Why do we not see editorials connecting those problems with the Juvenile Detention Facility? 

 

Commissioners Jonathan Letz and Buster Baldwin, while more balanced in their finger-pointing, are also on record that they regret the passage of the tax freeze. Letz echoed Williams when he opined for the San Antonio Express-News, "We're going to have to raise taxes, as I see it, on the young people to pay for the elderly." Baldwin, who has been more critical of the juvenile facility, joined in, saying he saw the fault for the "tightest financial picture of his 16 years in office" lay with the tax freeze and the JDF.

 

Only Nicholson has been straightforward enough to say, "If we had that $140,000 back, we'd still be in a bind." No kidding.

                         

 

 

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