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County judge honing 2013 budget

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Posted: Friday, June 22, 2012 4:00 am

Lower property values and dipping sales tax revenues challenge Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt as he prepares a spending plan for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.

However, the county’s chief administrator is optimistic that a new statewide approach to health care funding will leverage more dollars in that needy category.

“We’ve got everyone’s (spending) proposals and are compiling it and checking over what I always call a ‘wish list,’” Stoudt said of the requests made by county department heads and elected officials. “We’re starting to pinpoint areas where we don’t need to spend this year, and maybe put in next year’s (2013-14) budget. I fully intend to keep on the path of not spending more than we take in.”

Property appraisals slipped 4 percent countywide in preliminary estimates that await certification later this summer. The county and other local governments, fuel much of their annual budgets with property tax revenue derived from those values, as well as with sale taxes.

Gregg County’s budget this year is $48.7 million, with more than half of that in emergency reserves and funds dedicated to highway improvements and other large projects.

“Our capital (project) side will be high this year,” Stoudt said. “But all the monies are budgeted and planned for.”

Those include a major terminal renovation at East Texas Regional Airport and extension of George Richey Road across the county’s northern section.

“We’ve got a lot of software upgrades that we probably need to do,” Stoudt added. “And we’ve got some servers that will no longer have maintenance to them.”

The judge said the Obama administration set aside “a large sum of money” to establish multi-county health districts. The local health district is forming among some 28 Northeast Texas counties and will be administered through the University of Texas Health Science Center north of Tyler, he said.

“We can get that (federal) money matched 50 cents on the dollar,” he said, adding the funds may be applied to the growing mental health care demand in addition to indigent health care. “The concept is we’ll get additional monies on top of what we’re spending. That’s going to be great for Good Shepherd (Medical Center), and it certainly will be good for (Longview) Regional (Medical Center).”

A preliminary budget for the full commissioners court to consider should be ready next month, Stoudt said.

“It will be a little bit more challenging, because the economy has changed some, and our values are down a little bit,” Stoudt said. “And sales taxes have not been consistent every month. It will be fine. We’re just going to have to sharpen our pencils more this time around.”

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