County approves $267M budgetThough Williamson County commissioners are expected to lower the county’s property tax rate for fiscal year 2015-16, county homeowners will likely see an increase on their property tax bills to pay for a $267 million budget that includes salary increases and additional personnel.

Commissioners Court approved the budget Sept. 1. It includes a $158.7 million general fund, which funds capital projects, personnel costs, and basic operations and maintenance, as well as a $27.4 million road and bridge fund and an $81.1 million debt services fund.

Budget discussions initially began in the spring, and at the time Commissioners Court told County Budget Officer Ashlie Koenig the top priorities would be information and technology needs, infrastructure and facility maintenance, and paying down debt, she said.

“I felt like we brought in a very conservative budget to the court so that they would have some room to go back and allocate [funds] toward paying down debt,” Koenig said.

The commissioners pushed to adopt a tax rate lower than the current rate of $0.486529, and Commissioner Valerie Covey proposed plans that would lower the tax rate by a quarter or half cent and set aside $10 million to help pay off debt.

“I don’t want to get off track from that, because [paying off debt] is something that we can do,” she said.

Despite the likely drop in the tax rate, Larry Gaddes, the chief deputy of the county Tax Assessor and Collector’s Office, said most homeowners are going to still see an increase on their tax bill because of increasing property values. The average home value in Williamson County increased nearly $23,000, or more than 11 percent, from last year.

As of press time Sept. 4, the commissioners were expected to approve a property tax rate of $0.481529 per $100 valuation, which would be a half-cent decrease from the current tax rate, at the court’s Sept. 8 meeting. According to the county’s budget office, the average homeowner’s tax bill would be $103.77 more than last year.

Resident David Oberg asked the court Sept. 1 to lower the rate to a level that would bring in the same amount as last year’s collections.

“I think there’s few who could take the time off to be here in court to speak, so I hope I’m speaking for a lot of people,” he said. “I think I’m paying my fair share, and then some.”
The budget includes $2.2 million for 33 new positions and $1.7 million for a 3 percent merit pay increase for county employees.

Koenig received more than 100 requests for new full-time positions for the new fiscal year, she said, and many of those requests were considered as individual line items.

In initial budget discussions, the commissioners set aside $593,082 to reclassify job descriptions and salaries because of the change in job duties throughout the years, though individual departments requested more adjustments for individual positions.

Commissioners also approved $31,855 to replace 23 chairs for 911 operators. Emergency Services Director John Sneed said he purchased new chairs costing between $700 and $900 two years ago when the department was set to move to a new building, though the chairs have not served the operators well.

“You get what you pay for, and I tried to buy a cheaper chair and it’s not working out,” he said. “At the request of my staff, I think this is an important thing. Deputies drive cars; dispatchers drive chairs.”

Commissioners Covey, Lisa Birkman and Cynthia Long said they wanted to wait until a September ergonomics study determines which improvements to make to improve the emergency services workplace environment. County Judge Dan Gattis continued to push to fund the chairs by finding money in various other departments.

After more than an hour of debate commissioners agreed to take $32,000 out of the professional services fund for the equipment.

The commissioners also decided to allocate $10.8 million from the general fund and cash reserves to pay down debt.

The budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year goes into effect Oct. 1.