The preliminary budget, which was presented by county Budget Officer Amanda Carter, is a 7% increase from the previous fiscal year. According to a budget calendar approved April 26, county departments had until June 15 to submit their requests for the new budget.
Carter said due to a lack of clarity over final revenues and expenditures stemming from incomplete certifications of property values, a second preliminary budget could be released prior to a vote on county tax rates.
“This budget takes into account department requests, our own calculations and some public input,” Carter said. “Your perception of the budget may be different [from that of the budget office’s]—and that’s OK.”
The county’s general fund, which is used to fund operations, is $257.9 million without long-term projects and $279.5 million with projects included. The road and bridge fund, which services public roads and bridges, is $42.5 million, and the county’s debt service fund is $43.7 million.
Major changes Carter highlighted in the preliminary budget include an increase to employee insurance programs; a 2.5% increase in salaries for all county employees to compensate for cost-of-living increases; and increases to fuel, lubricants and vehicle maintenance items, which Carter attributed to inflation costs.
At the April 22 meeting, Carter highlighted specific forms of inflation that would affect the county’s budget. She named energy costs, which increased 24.5% from the previous year; fuel, which increased 44.8%; and food, which increased 6.8%, as potential reasons for increased budget requests.
New positions tentatively approved in the budget include a technician for the IT department, a deputy specialist for the tax office, a permit specialist, a live-release manager for animal services, a library computer analyst and a part-time clerk for the justice of the peace.
Law enforcement positions approved include a fleet technician for constable Precinct 4 and two additional district attorney’s office positions, including one for a new public integrity unit.
County budget workshops will begin at 8 a.m. Aug. 2 on the fourth floor of the Alan B.Sadler Commissioners Courthouse. Carter said a county tax rate will be voted on the last day of budget workshops.
The county has passed no-new-revenue, or effective, tax rates in the past three fiscal years, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported. No-new-revenue rates produce the same tax revenue if applied to the same property in two consecutive years, according to the Texas comptroller’s office.
Appraisal protests could delay tax vote
Carter also requested a possible adjustment to the previously approved budget calendar as the county has not received final certified property values that could affect revenue and expenditure calculations. The adjustment would have moved the last day of workshops to Aug. 9, a week after their start.
Certified property values are part of the property appraisal process, occurring after the protests to county valuations are resolved. County Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae told commissioners the Montgomery Central Appraisal District missed a statutory July 25 deadline for certification and that Chief Appraiser Tony Belinoski predicted certified values will come in Aug. 5.
“Without certified values, we only have estimates, and we want to make sure you guys are voting on the correct values,” Carter said.
In an email to Community Impact Newspaper, Belinoski said values could not be certified until 95% of the value on the county's appraisal rolls were not under protest. Belinoski attributed staffing shortages and high protest volumes to the MCAD's failure to meet the deadline.
Commissioners previously denied an increase in the MCAD's budget May 24.
Commissioners decided not to publish an immediate notice for an extension of workshops at the July 26 meeting. Jason Millsaps, County Judge Mark Keough’s chief of staff, said notices for an extension to Aug. 9 could be published in time to comply with state open meeting notices.