By Greg Peak
Area News Editor
LIVINGSTON – A new $28.4 million budget that calls for a 2.5 percent cost of living raise for all county employees was adopted Tuesday by the Polk County Commissioners Court during their regular meeting.
The adoption followed a public hearing at which no one appeared to speak either for or against the new spending plan, which now goes into effect on Oct. 1 for the 2017 fiscal year.
Expenditures in the plan are up by about $500,000 from the almost $27.9 million budget adopted one year ago for FY 2016. Revenues projected under the FY 2017 adopted Tuesday are listed at $28.7 million.
To support the budget, commissioners also approved an overall tax rate of 64.61 cents per $100 in assessed value, which is unchanged from the rate adopted one year ago. Under the rate, a homeowner with a taxable value of $100,000 can expect to pay $646.10 in county taxes this year.
The overall rate is actually a combination of two tax rates. The Interest and Sinking (I&S) portion of the rate is 11.22 cents and is earmarked to pay off the county's existing debt. The second part is for Maintenance and Operation (M&O), which covers everything else in the county's budget. The M&O figure includes a tax rate of 38.68 cents to fund the county's general fund and 14.71 cents to fund the road and bridge departments.
During the coming year, the tax rate is expected to generate almost $19.16 million, a total that is down by a little over $3,000 from the amount collected last year.
The slight drop in property tax income is expected to be more than offset by substantial increases in other income, such as the sales tax, which is expected to increase by more than $180,000; fees for services, which is projected to grow by almost $52,000; auto registration/vehicle license fees, which is expected to increase by $15,000; federal/state funding, which is listed as increasing by over $54,000; and "other revenue," which is projected to increase by over $543,000.
M.G. Reily Building
During the meeting, commissioners agreed to put the M.G. Reily Humanitarian Building in Corrigan up for sale pending the relocation of its sole occupant, the Corrigan Clinic.
Pct. 3 Commissioner Milt Purvis explained that Dr. Carlton Lewis is the only occupant in the building and there is an effort underway to relocate his office to a more modern facility in Corrigan.
Purvis said the building, which was originally built as a small hospital, is old and the cost of maintaining it is becoming a problem.
"Right now it needs a new roof so we're talking $100,000 or more," Purvis said.
Commissioners agreed that before any final action can be taken to sell the building, arrangements must be made to relocate the clinic. Purvis noted because the current lease expires in October, he may come back to ask for extensions of a "month or two" in order to accommodate the doctor.
In other action, the commissioners agreed to move forward on a plan to develop a consistent policy on leasing office space in county-owned buildings.
County Judge Sydney Murphy noted that currently the county leases space to non-profit groups, state agencies and private businesses.
In terms of the non-profit groups, Murphy said the county had different deals with each group that ranged from leases of $1 per year up to 25 cents per square foot per month.
The judge recommended that as the leases renew, the non-profits be charged 10 cents per square foot in county buildings located outside of Livingston and 20 cents per square foot for office space inside Livingston.
"We want to do what we can to help the non-profit groups because we want to keep the services that they provide to the county," she said.
She also recommended that a "fair market value" fee be established for leases to private businesses regardless of the location of the county buildings.
"We don't need to use tax dollars to subsidize a private business," she said, noting that by paying a lower than fair market rent for space would give a business an unfair advantage over its competition.
During the meeting, commissioners also:
• Approved a request from Sheriff Kenneth Hammack to create a security committee to assist in the development of crisis management procedures in the event of emergencies at the Polk County Courthouse and the Polk County Judicial Center. Hammack said the group will be asked to help create things like a plan to insure that county employees and visitors can be identified as safely evacuating in the event of a fire, bomb threat or active shooter situation.
• Approved a request from Hammack to create a citizens' advisory committee to make recommendations regarding a county animal shelter.
• Approved a request from the Americare ambulance service authorizing the company to create a membership program to provide coverage for a portion of the charges incurred in as medically necessary ambulance transport. Under the plan, those without insurance could join for $69 which would cover half the cost of their ambulance bill. It was noted that the program would be regulated by the state but that the county had to authorize the program.
• Agreed to continue the county's regulation of wrecker services with the sheriff's department conducting the inspections and collecting the fees.
• Approved three resolutions recommended by the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas and the Texas Association of Counties. The resolutions (1) request the legislature to fully fund the indigent criminal defense fund; (2) express opposition to efforts to limit local control and any attempts to impose revenue caps on counties; and (3) support a constitutional amendment expressly prohibiting the state from imposing mandatory programs on counties unless they are fully funded by the state.