On Monday, July 27, Wharton County Commissioners Court met following their regularly-scheduled meeting to discuss the 2020-21 budget, as proposed by Wharton County Judge Phillip Spenrath.
First, Wharton County Sheriff Shannon Srubar addressed the court to inform the court of current jail maintenance and costly replacements that could come in the near future.
“I wouldn’t be here asking for more money if we weren’t experiencing the increase in violent crimes like we’re having.”
“I didn’t ask for any additional funds for the 2020-21 budget, but there are some things that I wanted to take the time to share you that, let’s say within the next three to five years could become problematic,” he said. “It’s definitely something I suggest we keep in our radar.”
Those potential problems include: re-piping the water main pipes throughout the jail; replacing the kitchen coolers; replacing one of the jail boilers; and purchasing a newer and more powerful generator.
Srubar explained that he is looking at other means for funds.
“I am looking into grants, so maybe it won’t come out of tax-payer funds. I know right now it’s going to be tough; I understand,” he said. “I just wanted to inform the court of issues that I might have coming up with the jail.”
In a visual presentation, Wharton County District Attorney Dawn Allison informed the court of upcoming expenses to the D.A.’s office.
“We have eight active murder cases — four of which are capital murder cases. Capital murder cases are where we have the option to seek death,” she said, “I wouldn’t be here asking for more money if we weren’t experiencing the increase in violent crimes like we’re having.”
For capital murder trials, funds to the department could include: one assistant and additional investigator; trial experts; funds for witness travel expenses; medical and forensic specialists; and a contracted attorney.
Following Allison’s presentation, Spenrath informed the court of the county’s potential loss in tax revenue.
“The bottom line is right now our taxable property value is at $3,669,434,755. Last year our taxable values were at $3, 678,719,131,” Spenrath said. “We have about $9 million less this year than last year. It’s roughly $42,000 less in tax revenue going into next year.”
Spenrath also explained that the effective tax rate is a calculation that would give the county the same money they received the year before, but property owners may see a percentage rate increase.
“This would indicate that our effective tax rate may go up just a little bit from last year,” Spenrath said. “That’s just to get the same dollars as last year. This is very tentative at this point.”
Even though sales tax revenue has increased through the month of May, Spenrath suggested that trend would not last.
“We don’t know how long that is going to last as this (COVID-19) continues to carry on,” he said. “There are some businesses that are likely, at some point going to close.”
In order to file his proposed budget by July 31, Spenrath is relying on those projections, as well as state predictions to create the 2020-21 Wharton County Budget.
“I will say if three of you want to raise taxes to add some things, that’s all it takes is three votes. I will say that I wouldn’t be in favor of that, but it only takes three.”
Spenrath listed four reoccurring annual expenses that will be added this year.
Those include: $22,000 IT department server maintenance; $10,000 WCSO deputy cell phones; $4,000 precinct additions; and $2,500 for WSCO interdiction officer.
In the general fund, $1.5 million in excess funds from the 2019-20 budget allocated for one-time expenditures can be utilized in the proposed budget for 2020-21.
County employees may not receive the 3% cost-of-living pay increase like they have in prior years.
“I told (the court) we were down revenue,” Spenrath said. “Through the years, we’ve been able to give pay raises because some years we have new income, that is something new that’s built, new revenue. That’s not the case this year.”
After presenting his proposed budget, Spenrath expressed concern that the county will not have excess funds in this fiscal year unless the court voted to raise the tax rate.
“We can change anything on (the proposed budget). There is just no extra revenue,” Spenrath said. “I will say if three of you want to raise taxes to add some things, that’s all it takes is three votes. I will say that I wouldn’t be in favor of that, but it only takes three. Those are just options.”
At their next meeting in early August, commissioners will be allowed to make changes to the proposed budget.
For meeting notices, minutes and agendas, visit www.co.wharton.tx.us.