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Burnet County approves budget, tax rate after disagreement

Burnet County Commissioners Court

The Burnet County Commissioners Court approved a resolution declaring Sept. 17-24 Constitution Week. Posing for a photo with the proclamation are Precinct 1 Commissioner Jim Luther (left), Precinct 2 Commissioner Damon Beierle, Daughters of the American Revolution representative Cindy Brown, County Judge James Oakley, Precinct 3 Commissioner Billy Wall, and Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Don Dockery. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

The Burnet County Commissioners Court approved the fiscal year 2022-23 budget and tax rate, but not without some serious discussion first. Commissioners also approved an Election Day political sign ordinance during its regular meeting Tuesday, Aug. 23.

During discussion of the fiscal year budget, County Auditor Karin Smith presented two amendments for consideration. One amendment was for $12,078 to move two librarians from part-time to full-time positions. The second was for a total of $51,453 for a new food administrator at the jail and a new jailer.

County Clerk Janet Parker, who is retiring at the end of the year, asked commissioners to include a full-time deputy county clerk to the amendments under consideration. 

She and Oakley exchanged polite but terse words on the budget process, which began in the spring.

“On Monday, May 9, I along with Vicente Stafford met with the judge to discuss the budget,” Parker said. 

Stafford is a chief deputy but will take over as county clerk after the first of the year. She is running unopposed for the position in the Nov. 8 mid-term election. 

Parker said she and Stafford asked for a full-time deputy clerk and that part of the salary of an existing deputy clerk be paid for out of the general fund. The existing clerk’s salary has been partially funded from the clerk’s records management fund, which comes from filing and other fees charged by the clerk’s office for services. 

After reviewing the final proposed budget, which did not include those changes, Parker said she decided to come before the court and make the requests again.

“You can’t pay for these employees out of the records management money,” Parker said. “The fee may be used only for specific records management and preservation. A deputy county clerk does not do that.” 

“But your department is all about records management,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Don Dockery. 

Oakley pointed out he was advised that the records management money could be used to fund the position, and he based his budget decisions on that information. 

“If I was advised wrong, I was advised wrong,” he said. “That’s the way the budget was built. Folks come in and make requests, and we facilitate the best we can. It’s all about trying to keep from raising the tax rate.” 

Oakley closed the public hearing and called for a series of votes on the budget as legally required. Commissioners approved the budget with the amendments 4-1 with Precinct 2 Commissioner Damon Beierle voting no because neither included money for the deputy county clerk. 

Commissioners then unanimously approved a total tax rate of 0.3766 cents per $100 valuation for the 2022-23 fiscal year. Of that, 0.2795 cents will go to the general fund and 0.0405 cents will go to road and bridge for a total of 0.3200 cents to fund maintenance and operating. The portion to pay for debt service will be 0.566 cents per $100 valuation. 

The political sign ordinance, which will be in effect for the upcoming election Nov. 8, will apply only to county-owned or leased voting locations. Other locations, like the Granite Shoals Community Center and Texas Tech University at Highland Lakes campus in Marble Falls, can opt into the regulations by signing a memorandum of understanding. Commissioners approved both the new rules and the MOU with the stipulation that details on who will enforce sign rules at non-county locations be made clear before agreements were signed.

“I don’t want maintenance to be the polling site police,” Oakley said. “We need to work on language to clean up this part about policing. We can approve with the stipulation that we make a modification.” 

The question is who will determine when a sign is out of compliance and who will remove it when it is on property not owned or leased by the county. County maintenance will enforce the ordinance on county property. 

The new rules state that: 

  • signs can be only be erected 24 hours before the polls open and must be taken down 24 hours after polls close;
  • size is restricted to 18 inches by 24 inches or 3 square-feet;
  • each candidate is only allowed two signs per polling place;
  • and signs must be ground-mounted with wire stakes and not T-posts.