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County News

FY21 Budget Includes Proposal to Lower Taxes

On Tuesday, June 23, the Smith County Commissioners Court held its initial workshop to discuss the first working draft of the Smith County budget for Fiscal Year 2021. 

Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran will not formally file a proposed budget until July 31, and the Commissioners Court is not scheduled to vote on the Fiscal Year 201 budget until August 25. The Fiscal year 2021 goes into effect beginning on October 1, 2020.

Recognizing the economic hardships that many citizens in Smith County have had to endure through COVID-19, the initial draft budget seeks to lower the property tax rate from 34.5 cents per $100 valuation to 33.5 cents. This decrease is anticipated to be below the No-New-Revenue Rate (formerly known as the “Effective Rate”), though the final calculation of the No-New-Revenue Rate will not be provided to the County until late July.

Judge Moran said that even though revenues from sales taxes and fines and fees have dropped this year due to COVID-19, and are anticipated to be lower next year, the County’s healthy financial condition and strong reserve fund will help it weather this economic downturn without asking the taxpayer to make up the difference with an increase in property taxes. 

The current working draft of the budget, in fact, provides tax relief to property tax owners by proposing to take in less property taxes in FY 2021 than the County did in FY 2020.  

According to Judge Moran, “Fiscal Year 2021’s budget is all about ‘tightening our belt,’ and helping to ease the financial hardships that many in the community are currently facing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I understand that families are being forced to make tough household decisions during this time. We should do the same.”

“It is unheard of for a governmental entity to reduce their tax rate,” Commissioner Cary Nix said. 

Commissioner Jeff Warr noted that good decisions made by the Commissioners Court in years past to build up the county’s reserves are now helping them make these tough decisions easier today.

In light of the estimated decreased revenues from sales taxes, fines and fees, and interest, in order to also reduce the property tax rate below the No-New-Revenue Rate for FY 2021, the current draft of the budget, among other things:

  • Delays the previously planned bond election for a new Courthouse, originally planned for November 2020;
  • Transfers $1.8 million from the Capital Improvement Projects Fund to the General Fund to cover the revenue shortfall;
  • Uses $5.8 million from the General Fund Reserves to help replace the revenue shortfalls. This amounts to a savings of more than 3 cents against the property tax rate;
  • Uses $2.5 million from the Road and Bridge Department Fund Reserves to support continued FY 2021 Road and Bridge maintenance and operations to ensure that the priority on infrastructure is not affected.
  • Cuts a number of general operating expenses under local control;
  • Reduces fleet expenditures from $1.2 million to under $400,000; and
  • Reduces the number of total employees in the County, by eliminating a variety of positions, while reclassifying other positions to cover new needs in the Sheriff’s Office and Office of the District Attorney.

Although the current working draft budget does not provide for any across-the-board Cost of Living Adjustments or salary increases for employees, no additional contribution toward health insurance will be required and health benefits will remain steady. 

Commissioner JoAnn Hampton noted that, “I am a big proponent of employee raises but with everything going on, I think the employees will understand why we can’t give raises this year.” She also commented that Judge Moran has done a wonderful job laying out the proposed budget for the court, although a lot more work is needed before it can be approved and adopted.

Commissioner Terry Phillips also voiced support for the direction of the budget draft and the need to provide relief for taxpayers during this budget cycle. 

The deadline for Judge Moran to file the proposed FY 2021 Budget is July 31, and the formal budget will be presented and tax hearings held in Commissioners Court in August. The FY 2021 Budget will become effective October 1. The Court plans to hold another budget workshop in mid-July.

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