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Upcoming Gregg County budget filled with questions

By Glenn Evans
June 29, 2013 at 11 p.m.


He's waiting for answers to a handful of key questions before finalizing his proposed spending plan for 2013-14, but Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt is sure of one thing.

"This much I can tell you: we're not raising the tax rate," he said Friday.

Stoudt is planning to continue honing the county budget this week, but there are still many unknown elements. Those include how national health care reform will affect insurance premiums. And final property values won't be certified until later this summer, when all taxing entities will know what tweaking a tax rate up or down will do.

The county's 26.25-cent tax rate will bring in less money next year if a 6.5 percent drop in preliminary property values holds true. The early estimates issued each May typically move nearer to the previous year's mark by the time values are certified, for which the deadline this year is July 25.

"So, right now, we're just focusing on expenses," Stoudt said. "I am hopeful our general revenue spending will be pretty flat."

At this stage this past year, Stoudt was in the midst of writing a $45.4 million budget that was $1 million slimmer than the previous year's spending plan.

The judge said he hopes to deliver a full budget proposal to county commissioners in late July or early August. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Along with no increase in the tax rate, Stoudt promised a budget that continues to take on no debt and pay for large projects from about $30 million in unrestricted reserves.

Capital project spending, which comes from reserves, should be comparable to this year's spending. This year, capital spending of $8.9 million was planned and included the county's $2.25 million match to renovate the Henry Atkinson Terminal at East Texas Regional Airport. Up to 90 percent of the airport work, which also included a $2 million perimeter road, is reimbursed to the county by the Federal Aviation Authority.

Stoudt said a coming capital project would remake the intersection of Smelley and Alpine roads.

"It's going to require four-way stop lights," he said. "Those aren't cheap. That's probably a $200,000-plus project that we'll be looking at."

Stoudt also plans to earmark another $500,000 for the day the Hawkins Parkway extension reaches Tryon Road as planned.

"That's going to create a lot of additional traffic flow on Tryon Road," he said. "That's another half million, but those are all one-time expenditures that you've got the capital fund for."

A new shelter for stray animals adds another question mark to the county budget as the Longview City Council takes the lead on that project.

"We are committed to partner with them to get that shelter done," Stoudt said.

Stoudt and commissioners also are hoping to build a parking facility on East Whaley Street with a pedestrian bridge to the courthouse. That cost, too, remains unknown.

And Stoudt continues to go over commissioners' road and bridge budget requests along with the wish lists of other elected officials and department heads.

"So, we've got a lot of moving parts in this budget," he said. "We've got to be careful about how we manage them. ... We've got a lot of opportunities out there, but we've got to prioritize them. And they all cost money."

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