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Wharton County to lower tax rate, budget in 2020-21

The County Gin sat down with Wharton County Judge Phillip Spenrath to discuss the county’s 2020-21 annual operating budget and tax rate following the meeting of the commissioners court on Monday, Aug. 10.

According to Spenrath, the proposed No New Revenue Tax Rate is $.45869 per $100 of taxable value, while the current 2019 tax levy is $.46240. These numbers are generated by the tax assessor-collector’s office, using a formula from the State Comptroller’s Office, he explained. As with every year, the commissioners will statutorily vote to adopt the No New Tax Rate and the upcoming 2021 Annual Operating Budget.

“While most homeowners saw their property appraisals increase significantly during this past year, Wharton County still lost approximately $49 million in taxable value (the bulk of losses were related to diminishing gas and mineral values),” Spenrath told The County Gin. “Regardless, the Central Appraisal District (CAD) raised most countywide home values so, in response, our county’s tax levy lowered. We are not raising taxes.

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Looking back at the budget over the past 11 years, the county judge stressed that the county will be spending $286,440 less in 2021, with a total budget of $25,495,406 compared to a total budget of $24,166,706 in 2009.

Image courtesy of Wharton County Judge Phillip Spenrath

“You can see the tax rate has continually gone down through the years because property values have increased,” Spenrath told The Gin. “Wharton County has only raised taxes once in 13 years. That was this current budget cycle (2020) because state legislators made Wharton County assume $230,000 in new funding for the 23rd District Court. We also had to set aside $200,000 for a looming capital murder trial.”

The county judge also stressed the fact that Wharton County has remained debt-free for eight years.

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“We do not owe anyone for construction debt bonds, etc. We have maintained basically the same $24-$25 million budget for the past 13 years,” Spenrath said. “We were able to significantly cut our budget in 2012-13 by primarily cutting capital expenditures and eliminating a number of employee positions due to retirement.

“Thankfully, in 2018, the new Exelon plant came online and they started paying the county more than $1 million annually in new tax revenues, which enabled us to refund the vacant positions and increase the district attorney’s budget without any form of tax increase.”

The public is invited to a hearing, which is required by state law, to be held at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 14.

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“Pursuant to Texas Local Government Code Section 140.010, the county must hold two public hearings if deciding to adopt a rate above the No New Revenue Tax Rate,” he said, highlighting the fact that the county is only holding one hearing. “Pursuant to Texas Local Government Code Section 111.007a, the county must hold one public hearing on the proposed budget. We are scheduled to hold the requisite hearing, adopt our 2021 annual operating budget and set the 2020 No New Revenue Tax Rate on Monday, Sept. 14.”

“As always, the commissioners will adopt a very conservative, but responsible budget. Many of our local taxpayers continue to struggle to make ends meet and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic creates a tremendous amount of future economic uncertainty,” Spenrath added.

For more information, visit the Wharton County website and stay tuned to The County Gin for future updates on the 2020-21 budget.

Natalie Frels-Busbyhttps://www.thecountygin.com
Natalie Frels-Busby is the former editor-in-chief of The County Gin.

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