Burnet County lowers tax rate and boosts staff salaries

CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER

BURNET — County commissioners adopted the 2015-16 fiscal year budget Aug. 25 with increases in employee pay as well as additional amenities and staff positions for various departments, officials say.

And it all came with a tax rate decrease.

Burnet County Commissioners approved a $34 million budget along with a tax rate of 40.25 cents per $100 valuation, a reduction from last year’s rate of 41.4 cents.

“We approved the budget. It was a good budget. It actually lowers the tax rate by 2.8 percent,” Burnet County Judge James Oakley said. “It sticks with the effective tax rate, so as valuations have gone up and there’s been new construction, we’re able to lower the effective rate.”

The effective rate is adopted to collect the same amount of net revenue to cover the same expenses as in the previous fiscal year.

According to the county auditor’s office, combined appraised values and new construction increased countywide by 4.67 percent.

“The departments were able to get pretty much everything they’ve asked for. We were able to replace vehicles in the sheriff’s office as well as the maintenance department and environmental services,” Oakley said.

The budget allows for three patrol sport utility vehicles at the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office; the maintenance department and environmental service were budgeted two pickup trucks; the district attorney’s office will buy two new vehicles and add a part-time position; and commissioners approved expanding a part-time position in the county attorney’s office to full time.

The budget also adds $500,000 to the capital improvements fund.

Commissioners approved absorbing a 7.8 percent increase in employee health insurance and raises for staff as well.

“We were able to do a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment,” Oakley said. “We were able to adhere to a market study on some positions that were found to be under market, so we were actually able to accelerate a schedule that had been set up in courts prior to me.”

Commissioners approved a 29 percent fund balance, where a minimum is set by policy at 25 percent, he said.

Fund balance is reserve funding that allows the county to operate for three months after the start of the new fiscal year, Oct. 1, until officials collect ad valorem taxes, which come due in January 2016.

“We purchased the jail without increasing the debt service. We just rolled off some old debt service and replaced it with new debt, but the actual debt service rate did not change,” he said.

The debt is about 7 percent of the county budget.

Oakley added the county has a “AA” bond rating, an indicator of the credit profile of the county.

“That’s pretty high in the rank of things,” Oakley said. “The county is in great shape.”

connie@thepicayune.com

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