No one turned out to speak for or against the proposed 2019-2020 budget and tax rate Friday as the Harrison County Commissioners Court unanimously passed a $29.9 million budget, following a public hearing.
“I’m thankful to Veronica King and Becky Haynes, our tax assessor and our county auditor, for their help preparing the budget, answering all the questions I had,” said County Judge Chad Sims, sharing how smooth the process was.
The county judge said lots of hours were devoted to preparing the budget, and he appreciates everyone involved for their efforts. Being his first budget as newly-elected county judge, Sims also acknowledged his predecessor, Hugh Taylor, for offering support.
“He was very helpful with questions that I had and suggestions,” said Sims. “It’s obvious that he cares about the county as well as all the other employees here. They want what’s best for our county.”
Sims said he was also pleased with the outcome of the public hearing, which concluded seamlessly without a glitch.
“Today’s meeting was short and quick because everybody has done a great job and there were no contested or hot issues,” the county judge said. “It was a very pleasant meeting.”
An unexpected change in the approved budget was the addition of an $800 across the board raise for employees — a desire Sims initially thought they wouldn’t be able to fulfill.
“We have lots of hardworking, dedicated, committed employees and we were very pleased to give them a … (although) minimal $800 raise,” said Sims. “Every little bit helps.”
The approved $29.9 million budget is up $1.7 million from last year. In addition to the budget, the court approved the proposed ad valorem tax rate, which was increased by one-half of a cent, going from 0.3498 cents per $100 assessed valuation to 0.3548 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
The court also approved authorizing the property tax collection increase of $1.6 million for the new fiscal year.
“This comes from the valuation increases that we received from the appraisal district and the half-cent increase in our tax rate,” he explained.
The bulk of that $1.6 million increase in the budget comes from industrial and commercial valuations.
“We saw large gain in valuations in oil and gas, utilities — which are pipelines — and (in) commercial and industrial personal property,” Sims pointed out.
Oil and gas was up by 30.4 percent, utilities by 13.5 percent and commercial and industrial property by 10.5 percent.
“Those accounted for a huge portion of the gains that we saw and that’s directly correlated to economic development, which is what we want to see in our county,” Sims said.
“We want to see businesses locating here and growing and expanding,” he said. “That broadens that property tax base. That’s exactly what we want to see, so we’ll continue to have a hospitable environment for businesses to thrive here in the future.”
The county judge noted before that about $1.2 million of the $1.6 million property tax collection increase in the budget will benefit some top priorities, including new vehicles for the sheriff’s office, maintenance at the 1963-model courthouse, increased healthcare costs and new vehicles for road and bridge.
Other priorities include $92,000 for increased utility costs; $50,000 for indigent legal expenses for Child Protective Services and child support matters; another $50,000 for inmate medical care; and $45,000 to purchase a new transport van for juvenile services.
Sims said he was happy they were able to respond to some other budgetary needs, including the addition of a human resources clerk, as requested by Human Resources Director Velma McGlothin; and a litter abatement part-time employee, as requested by the county fire marshal’s office, which also serves as the county’s environmental health department.