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Gregg County taxpayers to add 'two cents' in meeting

By Glenn Evans
Aug. 6, 2012 at 10 p.m.

Gregg County residents can weigh in on the tax rate that will fuel the bills they receive next year during two public hearings this month.

County commissioners have not proposed a specific rate yet, but they will before the first public hearing, at 9 a.m. on Aug. 16. The second hearing is 9 a.m. on Aug. 20.

The court plans to adopt the 2012-13 tax rate at 10 a.m. Aug. 27.

County Judge Bill Stoudt, who last week distributed a $45.6 million spending plan to commissioners, has said the new tax rate will not exceed this year's rate of 25½ cents per $100 property valuation.

On Monday, Stoudt went one step further.

"I think there's a real opportunity for us to drop the tax rate," he said. "What that is remains to be seen, because we've got so many moving targets right now."

Those shifty bull's eyes are led by health insurance, for which costs normally don't arrive from the county's insurance provider until early September. Stoudt said early projections are for a 15 percent increase in health insurance costs. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Keeping the tax rate the same will result in many taxpayers writing slightly fatter checks to the county since local property values rose about 4 percent since last year.

The effective tax rate, which generates the same amount of revenue as the county took this year is 26 cents plus 59-thousandths of a cent.

Stoudt said one goal he has is to keep the county debt-free while actively upgrading infrastructure such as the George Richey Road expansion, and doing that on the lowest tax rate for a county of 200,000 or fewer people. That will weigh on any decision to lower the proposed rate.

"We're spending over $12 million from unrestricted reserves (on road) this year," he said. "And we don't know what the (83rd Texas) Legislature is going to do. So I think you need to be very cautious in terms of how you move the tax rate. If we lower it, we've got to lower it with expectations to pick up the future growth."

The county's unrestricted fund balance, which was around $40 million, is projected to be just $27 million by Sept. 30.

"We've been spending it on infrastructure projects," Stoudt said. "Gregg County, compared to any county in the state, is one of the best if not the best of any county in the state from that (budgeting) standpoint. But, I still think we can deal with all of the stuff and drop the tax rate a certain amount."



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