One of the essential things a County Judge does is to prepare and submit the budget for the next year. I am very fortunate to have an outstanding team of elected officials and staff to help me with this. It has been my observation that everyone involved in Clay County government does their work as efficiently and effectively as possible. Previous commissioners courts have worked hard to hold the line on taxes while still providing the services mandated by the Texas Legislature and expected by the taxpayers.
Last year's tax rate was .725/$100 of valuation. This year we are proposing .700/$100 of valuation. We can do this because the Clay County Appraisal District's assessment was up $90,315,937.00. Here's where it gets complicated. What this means is, if your valuation didn't go up, then you got a tax break. However, there is what is known as the effective tax rate. For us, this year, it would be .650/$100 of valuation. That means that for us to raise the same revenue as last year, our tax rate would be .650/$100 appraisals. We are allowed to increase that rate by 8%. Next year, it will be 3.5%. So, where will this additional revenue go?
There are legitimate needs that were requested. However, there is limited money available. So, it's the commissioners' courts job to set priorities for how the tax dollars spent.
The top proposed expenses were:
A 5.5% increase in insurance rates for the employees
Five additional deputies at $70,000 each (when you include FICA and insurance)
Add other office staff in the Justice of the Peace office
More gravel for the rural roads to replace that which was lost during flooding
The commissioners’ court after several budget workshops have decided to propose the following:
Approve paying the 5.5% increase since raises were not possible. We believe that one of the significant incentives for working for Clay County is that we have excellent insurance
Increase funding to the Sheriff’s office for two additional deputies
Denied funding to JP’s office for other staff
There will be a slight increase in the road and bridge fund for the increased cost of supplies such as gravel and fuel
Add a Veterans Service Officer to assist Clay County Veterans in securing their benefits and working with the Veterans Administration. We currently have an estimated 800 veterans living in Clay County.
Another area of concern for the commissioners has been the restoration of the historic 1883 Clay County Courthouse. We applied for and received a grant from the Texas Historical Commission to update our restoration master plan. Once the master plan is current, we will then be eligible to apply for a six million dollar restoration grant. We would be responsible for matching with $800,000 out of the county budget. Here’s the timeline on the restoration project:
September – Architects deliver the Restoration Master Plan to the commissioners
December – Decide on Texas Historical Commission Grant application
January – If approved by commissioners, apply for the grant
February – Get results of the grant application
If we are funded, then we will move at the pace allowed by the Historical Commission. If not, then we will use the master plan to restore the courthouse as funding is available locally.
In my opinion, the priorities are:
Replace the roof - $550,000 EST.
Update the district courtroom on the second floor
Update the first-floor hallway and office
The one thing we don’t have any control over is the widening of the US 82 from Nocona to Henrietta. According to TxDOT, that will be a seven-year project with purchasing of the right of way beginning in Clay County in about four years. Clay County will be responsible for purchasing a portion of the right of way. No one knows the amount yet, so that makes it tough to plan for. Early estimates are around $800,000.
Previous commissioners’ courts have already started designating funds for the restoration and the US 82 project, but it’s nowhere near what we will need.
Logistically, to accomplish the restoration of the courthouse, offices will need to be moved from the courthouse. When we look at options, there are several. The one that offers the county the most flexibility would be purchasing the Wells Fargo building. It’s nearby, reasonably priced, and has plenty of room. It would allow the county time to complete the restoration without the expense of rent. We have made an offer on this facility and should know the results by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, August 23rd. If we are successful in this purchase, the plan is to move courthouse staff and courtroom activities to the Wells Fargo building during the updates and restoration to the current courthouse. Once the repair is complete, we would determine what departments would work best in the historic courthouse.
If we are not able to purchase this facility, we will look at surrounding available office space and complete the repairs, just not as quickly as we had hoped.
The commissioner’s court will hold a public hearing during our regular meeting in the courthouse annex on Monday, September 9, 2019 from 10:00 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. Following this meeting, commissioners will approve the budget and set the tax rate for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Please contact me with any concerns you might have. My phone number is 940-538-4651, or my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.