Navarro County Commissioners rejected an option to calculate the voter-approval tax rate up to 8%, refusing to consider emergency measures set forth by the state.
County Judge H.M. Davenport explained that Texas lowered the rollback rate, re-named the voter-approval tax rate, to 3.5%, however, in the event of a disaster declaration, like those prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the bill allows a county to calculate a rate of up to 8% without triggering a rollback election.
According to Davenport, this option does not necessarily mean the county would tax the maximum allowable amount, but would consider the rate in the development of the county's budget planning.
“At this point in time, we just simply have to say whether we'll take advantage of that addendum or revert back to the 3.5,” he said.
Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Dowd told the court the option allows for the calculation of a minimal increase, or none at all, as the rate could be calculated anywhere between 3.5 and 8%.
“You can park it a 3.6 or 5.5, wherever hits the magic number without generating any extra revenue. That's what your intent is to preserve,” he said. “But you can't do it if you don't pass this. There's no flexibility. This is only an insurance policy, and then you use your best judgement as to where it's going to fall in there.”
County Auditor Terri Gillen told Commissioners this option offers the county leeway to calculate a few more cents.
“I personally don't think that it will make enough difference to betray the trust of our citizens,” said James Olsen, Commissioner Pct. 4. “It would not be the first year that we would budget a deficit.”
Olsen added that budget cuts to county and emergency services would not be considered.
“Before I was elected, I had a business,” said Eddie Moore, Commissioner Pct. 3. “I understood that to make more money, you can't just keep going up on your rates - you'll start losing customers. What you have to do to increase profits, without going up on rates, you have to spend less,” he said.
“It's hard to go up in times like this. We're going to tighten our belt this year, it's going to be really uncomfortable,” he said. “There will be no services, no emergency services cut, but we're all going to feel the sting from this.”
Moore reminded the court and audience that Commissioners are residents and taxpayers also, repeating his reluctance to arbitrarily increase rates.
“We're going to stick to our guns here. We're going to ride this thing out,” he said. “What doesn't work out washes out.”
Gillen said new state mandates will force the county to consider new factors during future budget planning sessions.
“We don't know what's coming,” said James Grant, Commissioner Pct. 1. “It's hard to budget for what it's going to cost or what they [the state] is going to require you to do. You're gambling and hope it pays off for you. It's scary.”
Davenport made the motion to approve the voter-approval tax rate be calculated at 8% in the manner provided for a special taxing unit.
“That doesn't mean it's going up 8%,” he said. “It doesn't mean it's going past 3%. We don't know what it's going to go past, but it gives us leeway in case it needs to go up.”
Eddie Perry, Commissioner Pct. 2, provided a second, however, the motion failed with the majority voting against.
In other business, the court took no action on the county's burn ban, which remains lifted at this time.
The Veterans Administration received approval to access county WiFi in the waiting area of the annex building to access Zoom meetings.
A 1994 Gradall excavator belonging to Precinct 2 was declared salvage and Commissioner Pct. 2 Perry was granted approval to seek proposals to purchase a new Gradall excavator.
Commissioner Olsen's 16 hours of continued education were approved.
The court met in executive session to discuss personnel, contract, and economic development, taking no action in open session.