County poised to increase budget

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Austin County Commissioners approved two measures at the July 27 session of court that will allow them to give elected officials up to a 3% raise and also increased the voter approval rate (formerly called the roll-back rate) on property tax increases from 3.5% to 8%.

County Judge Tim Lapham was quick to say that the actions do not mean there will be raises or an increase of 8% on property tax, but that the action was timely by law to allow them the option to do so when the county sets the budget in September.

“We’re not specifically setting them until we approve the budget and compensation order. This is … the ceiling. We can’t go over that,” he said of the salary increases.

He said if the county wants the option to give the raises or to exceed the 3.5% rate set last year by the Legislature – an option it has when a state emergency has been declared – then it must post the notice before Aug. 1, which they did.

“It doesn’t mean we’re going to 8%, it doesn’t mean we’re going over 3.5%, but if we think we’re going to go over 3.5% we have to vote on this today,” he said.

The commissioners passed both measures 3-1 with Commissioner Bobby Rinn voting against both.

The commissioners then went into a discussion on the preliminary 2020-2021 budget, taking their first look at how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the county next year financially.

Lapham’s proposed budget is $18,386,315, which is $2,114 less than the current budget. Revenues, however, are going to be a problem.

“$239,183, that’s how much more the budget is than what the expected revenues are,” Lapham said.

“If it wasn’t for all the grants and everything we’ve gotten this year we would probably be in a deficit with our revenue numbers,” County Auditor Billy Doherty said.

The commissioners took a brief overview of the budget and then went into a nearly two-hour budget workshop with the sheriff’s office, EMS, Tax Assessor-Collector Kim Rinn, and the constable and justice of the peace offices for Precinct 3 stating their cases for budget increases.

The commissioners agreed to the requests from EMS and sheriff’s office, bringing the new total to $18,373,839.

Budget hearings will be held in August and September before the final budget and tax rate are set and enacted in October.

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