JEFFERSON — The Marion County Commissioners Court unanimously passed a $6.22 million budget on Monday.
Commissioners also adopted a tax rate of .578067 per $100 valuation, which is .023134 more than last year’s rate of .554933 per $100 — or 6.85%. The taxes for maintenance and operations on a home valued at $100,000 will increase by about $23.14.
Marion County Judge Leward LaFleur said the increase in tax rate had little to do with pay raises and more to do with unfunded mandates the state Legislature requires counties to fund.
“In the 2018 budget of Marion County, the residents, the taxpayers of Marion County paid bills for the state of Texas in the amount of $301,050.23 in the form of unfunded mandates — things that the state of Texas says that we must do and pay for yet does not give us a way to pay for those things; so the taxpayers have to pay for them,” LaFleur explained prior to the court’s vote to ratify the tax rate.
“That’s how much the taxpayers in Marion County had to spend, and we had to raise $200,000-plus in taxes to pay for most of those things because we continuously have to (pay) over and over. It’s every year,” he said.
The budget will raise more total property taxes than last year’s budget by $236,999 or 7.92%. A total of $27,311.41 is tax revenue to be raised from new property added to the tax roll this year.
Prior to the approval of the budget and tax rate, the court heard comments from two people about the budget. One, Karen Gleason with the county’s child welfare board, thanked the court for the long-overdue increase allotted for the department for the new fiscal year.
The other, resident Bruce Ockrassa, reiterated his displeasure with across-the-board $300 pay raise for all county employees.
Ockrassa voiced his opinion on the matter during the county’s first public hearing on the budget and called for the county to run as a meritocracy. Ockrassa noted he’s certainly not against pay raises for employees that are deserving, but he thinks there must be a process in place to terminate nonperforming elected officials.
“There is indeed a mechanism to get rid of a bad employee. There’s a review process. If they’re not performing they can be fired. Not so with elected officials,” said Ockrassa. “There’s no mechanism to get rid of them.”
Ockrassa said he’s spoken with the staff of State Rep. Chris Paddie and State Sen. Bryan Hughes on the matteron how to remedy that through the legislator, but suggested that the commissioners court look into a resolution, too.
In response, Judge LaFleur asked him to stick to the topic he signed up to speak on, which was the county budget.
“You signed up to speak on the budget. We need to stay on the budget,” LaFleur said.
Ockrassa, who previously aired out his grievances about commissioners and poor road conditions, said when it comes to the budget, he believes that some elected officials need to recuse themselves from pay increases.
“It’s indefensibly immoral to vote yourself to pay raise and then raise everyone else’s taxes when there’s no mechanism to get rid of a bad employee that is indeed elected at the county level,” Ockrassa said.
“Is there any way to separate elected officials from those who actually work for a living?” he asked.
“...because elected officials can (certainly sit down) and collect their pay for four years and now you’re asking for a tax increase to give someone a raise that refuses to do their job,” he said.
Answering Ockrassa’s question, Commissioner C.W. Treadwell said there is a mechanism.
“It’s called voting (booth),” said Treadwell.
Ockrassa said while he knows some officials will be up for election in about a year-and-a half, something must be done in the meantime.
“In a year-and-half it’ll come up, but until then we’re going to have to pay $60,000 per person and now they want a raise besides that $60,000,” said Ockrassa, referring to the salaries of some officials. “And that’s what I say, it’s morally indefensible.”
“Anyhow, I’ll see you in about a year-and-a-half, but there should be a fix before that time,” he said.
Following the meeting, Judge LaFleur said the budget process has definitely been an enlightening one and he thanks County Tax Assessor Karen Jones and County Auditor Shanna Solomon for their assistance in guiding him through his first budget as county judge.
“The budget increase, the employee raise, is a very small part of the tax increase, so you know people may be upset about employees’ raises, but again it equals $1.13 per working day,” LaFleur said. “I don’t know if you could get pretty upset about that, but we do some great things in Marion County.
“The employees are phenomenal,” he said. “Anytime we can give them a small increase in salary, I’d sure like to.”
In other business, the court voted to table a decision on which newspaper to run their legal notices in, according to Government Code 2051.044. The ads have been currently running in the Jefferson Jimplecute, as well as The Marshall News Messenger.
Judge LaFleur said the issue came up because the Jimplecute was without a paper some days and therefore was out of compliance with the county’s requirements to publish the legal notices in a paper that is published at least once a week; be entered as second-class postal matter in the county where published; and have been published regularly and continuously for at least 12 months before the governmental entity or representative publishes notice. The Government Code notes that a weekly newspaper has been published regularly and continuously under if the newspaper omits not more than two issues in the 12-month period.
“It was noticed that they were missing multiple publications and it was putting our tax sales in jeopardy,” LaFleur said.
“It opens up for lawsuits,” he said. “Tax sales are actually taking people’s property from them for not paying their taxes, and that notifies them that’s about to happen, so that’s just one part of it.
Additionally, “it could jam up the entire court system of Marion County — District Court, my County Court docket, any civil lawsuits filed,” he said. “That could really jam up all of those things, so we need to make sure that we have a newspaper that publishes regularly to get the information out to people until they allow us to put those things on our website or internet. The state legislators, they’ve got to pass those laws in order for us to do that.”