The Smith County Commissioners Court voted to approve the Fiscal Year 2015 County Budget on Tuesday.
The budget includes a slight tax rate increase from .323564 to .33, which is projected to generate $915,884 in additional revenue that will be dedicated solely to road projects. For the average-priced home of $144,817, the annual increase in County property taxes would be $9.36. Even with this slight increase, the Smith County property tax rate remains as one of the lowest in Texas. In fact, 226 counties out of 254 have tax rates higher than that of Smith County.
“Smith County has been involved with long range planning for County operations since 2008,” County Judge Joel Baker said. “This budget not only addresses the needs identified for the new budget year, but positions the County to support the needs of our growing community for the future.”
Judge Baker, who serves as the County’s budget officer, says careful financial management and conservative budgeting allow Smith County to continue providing high-quality services while maintaining one of the lowest tax rates in the State of Texas. The FY2015 budget provides funding for 19 new positions, 12 of which are in the Sheriff’s Office, which would bring the County’s headcount back to a level similar to that which was in place during the economic downturn when positions were eliminated.
The complete 2015 Budget is available for the public to view online at www.smith-county.com. Highlights from this year’s budget include:
Road and Bridge Projects –The County is refocusing efforts on road infrastructure by dedicating approximately $3 million, including the funding created by a slight increase in the tax rate, to road and bridge improvements. The County also recently hired a County Engineer to oversee road projects and to facilitate long-term planning. The Court also recently commissioned a comprehensive county road study to aid in prioritizing necessary improvements.
Law enforcement and jail operations – With the completion of the jail project, this budget calls for the addition of 12 new detention officers to support the opening of the new, central jail facility. Additionally, the proposed budget allocates funding for policy changes to enhance employee retention and recruitment within the Sheriff’s Office.
County Administration/Budget Director – The FY2015 Proposed Budget allows funding to support administrative restructuring with a County Administrator/Budget Director position to serve as Chief of Staff for the Commissioners Court and facilitate the annual budget process.
Employee Investment –To attract and retain qualified and contributing employees, a slight cost of living adjustment of 1.8% is proposed for non-elected positions. Also, there is a proposed increase to the retirement match from 125% to 175%, and funding, which is still below the average of 200% in other Texas counties. The County saved more than $5 million by reducing the match rate in 2010 due to the downturn in the economy.
Raising the match rate to 175% will still result in savings over the rate that was in place prior to 2010.
County Facilities –Improving and maintaining County facilities remains an important priority as the Commissioners Court plans for future needs and efficient use of space. Included in their considerations is providing for improved animal control services for the unincorporated areas of the county in 2015. Additionally, the budget allocates $600,000 for technology improvements.