JEFFERSON — The Marion County Commissioners Court adopted, on Wednesday, the new 2021 fiscal year county budget, which will raise more total property taxes than last year’s property taxes by $71,589, which is a 1.97 percent increase from last year’s budget.
Of that, $38,096 is tax revenue to be raised from new property added to the tax roll this year.
“What the commissioners court did, we kept the same tax rate as last year, so we didn’t raise our tax rate at all,” explained County Judge Leward LaFleur.
With the same tax rate, the county would collect $46,511 in revenue. County Tax Assessor-Collector Karen Jones noted before that since the properties are on a three-year reappraisal by the appraisal district, only one-third of residents’ taxes will go up in value.
“That will not affect your disabled, elderly, or frozen homesteads,” Jones explained before.
Following a public hearing, commissioners adopted the tax rate of 0.578067. Pct. 4 Commissioner Charles Treadwell made the motion that the property tax rate be increased by the adoption of the tax rate of $0.578067 per $100 valuation, which is effectively a 1.27 percent increase in the tax rate.
Treadwell noted that it reflects a General Fund rate of 0.511252; and a road and bridge rate of 0.066815, for a total rate of 0.578067.
“Therefore, this year’s levy to fund maintenance and operations expenditures exceeds last year’s maintenance and operations tax levy,” said Treadwell. “Also, this year’s M and O (maintenance and operations) tax rate is higher than the (no)-new revenue tax rate.”
County Auditor Shanna Solomon noted that the proposed budget includes changes discussed in last month’s meeting, which included increasing the ad valorem taxes by $46,511 in the general revenue and increasing general expenditures by $18,000 for telemedicine services in the sheriff’s department, to comply with the Sandra Bland Act.
“Our deficit for the year is $236,217,” said Solomon.
Treadwell said the deficit should decrease once the county is awarded a $125,000 CARES Act grant from the state to help offset the cost of new election equipment.
New election equipment is one of the major expenses the county is anticipating in the budget this year. County Clerk Vickie Smith noted that the equipment will cost about $255,000.
Another expense the county is anticipating is an estimated bid of $150,000 to fix the courthouse wall.
Judge LaFleur previously explained that the wall was added onto the jail in the late ‘90s. It’s attached to the elevator.
“It is having some foundation issues that need to be addressed before they get non-corrective,” Judge LaFleur noted before.
Regarding the telemedicine program the county has to fund, the Sandra Bland Act calls for jails to have telemental health services available to inmates, effective Sept. 1, 2020.
The law includes a provision regarding prisoner safety that requires county jails to allow prisoners around-the-clock access to a mental health professional — either on-site or through telehealth consultation.
The court recently approved to contract with SOC Telemed for a Telemed/Telemental subscription for jail standards pertaining to the Sandra Bland Act.
The company will charge the county $300 per consultation, and $150 for a follow-up consult. Based on an estimated average of four consultations per month, the county would pay a minimum of about $1,500 a month for the service, David Bien, representative with SOC Telemed, noted before. The one-time implementation fee is $5,000.
Judge LaFLeur said he is pleased that the county was able to maintain the same tax rate.
“I encourage everyone to reach out to their elected officials and ask questions,” County Judge Leward LaFleur said of the overall budget.
“The greatest thing about serving in local government is we get to see and interact with our constituents every day,” he said.