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Gregg County OKs 2013 budget, tax rate

By Glenn Evans
Aug. 27, 2012 at 11 p.m.

Gregg County commissioners approved their spending plan for the 2012-13 fiscal year on Monday on a 4-1 vote after discussing philosophical differences over how healthy to keep the reserve balance.

"This budget raises taxes when we don't need the money," Commissioner Darryl Primo explained his dissension on both the $59.9 million spending plan and its 26¼-cent tax rate. "We have money running out of our ears."

Though a quarter-cent lower than this year's tax rate, the new one raises $482,000 more than this year's rate did. County Judge Bill Stoudt noted about two-thirds of that comes from new home and business construction, which Stoudt says was prompted by capital improvements that continue in the new budget.

Those expenses this year top $12 million and include $5 million as the county's portion for widening and extending George Richey Road as an east-west corridor in northern Gregg County.

Another $1.3 million is included as the county's portion of a multi-governmental fund to widen Texas 42 from Interstate 20 south to Kilgore.

Stoudt also announced on Monday that $753,000 had been added since this past week because the Federal Aviation Administration has asked to make a covered airplane boarding lane during this year's budget cycle. The so-called skybridge, though it sits on the ground, is part of a larger terminal renovation at East Texas Regional Airport, of which $9 out of every $10 is federal money, making the local skybridge cost about $75,000, for instance, he said.

The budget also has a new line item; to build a new animal shelter in partnership with the city of Longview and potentially other governments. The dollar amount on that line item is listed as 'unknown.'

Stoudt defended the tax rate as the fifth lowest in Texas and the lowest for counties with 200,000 or fewer residents. Primo countered that some counties with lower rates don't collect sales taxes, which Gregg County does.

Property taxes are expected to raise $21.3 million for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Sales taxes are expected to add another $15.5 million.

Stoudt also noted the county has no debt and the new budget spends less than it takes in.

Keeping the county's uncommitted reserves in the $27 million range helps insure against unforeseen mandates coming from Austin and Washington, D.C., Stoudt and other commissioners said.

Commissioner Charles Davis referred to a graph showing property values in the county rising from $4 billion to $9 billion during Davis' 20 years on the court.

"Commissioner Primo is right, we should never waste taxpayer money," Davis said. "But we did something right. People looking for a place to put a business look at winners. That's the reason you see what's going on in this graph."

Commissioners Gary Boyd and John Mathis both said they share Stoudt's concern for unknown costs arriving from state or federal sources.

"I think it's prudent," Stoudt said, "that we move cautiously in the uncertain waters ahead."



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