County Judge defends budget process, citizens plead for deeper cuts

Michael Vickers addresses Commissioners Court during September 14 public hearing on the proposed 2021 Atascosa County budget and tax increase.

Michael Vickers addresses Commissioners Court during September 14 public hearing on the proposed 2021 Atascosa County budget and tax increase.

The first public hearing on the Atascosa County 2021 budget and a proposed tax increase to $0.5794 was held Monday during Commissioners Court at the Atascosa County Courthouse in Jourdanton. The next public hearing on the Atascosa County 2021 proposed budget and tax rate will be held Sept. 17 at 9 a.m. The 2021 proposed budget and tax rate will be considered for approval and adoption on Sept. 21 at 9 a.m. at the Atascosa County Courthouse. All meetings are open to the public. Visitors must follow Governor Abbott’s mask protocols. Citizens who would like to make comments are asked to arrive by 9 a.m. to sign in to speak.

A public notice from Atascosa County printed on page 6A in the Sept. 9 issue of the Pleasanton Express stated that all Commissioners and the County Judge favor the proposed tax increase of $0.5794 from the 2020 tax rate of $0.4977 per $100– an increase of 16.4%. At the public hearing, County Judge Bob Hurley gave a statement regarding the 2021 budget and tax rate. Local residents, including small business owner and former Jourdanton City Manager Kendall Schorsch, and Jourdanton resident and real estate agent Michael Vickers, pleaded with Commissioners to please go back through and make deeper cuts to the proposed 2021 county budget.

This table compares the taxes imposed on the average residence homestead by Atascosa County last year to the taxes proposed to be imposed on the average residence homestead by Atascosa County this year.

This table compares the taxes imposed on the average residence homestead by Atascosa County last year to the taxes proposed to be imposed on the average residence homestead by Atascosa County this year.

To review the proposed 2021 Atascosa County budget please go to www.atascosacounty.texas. gov/upload/page/5309/ docs/Financial/Budget/ PROPOSED. The 2021 proposed budget is 204 pages and includes the 2021 requested budget line items, 2020 budget, 2020 year-to-date percent, 2019 and 2018 actual spent. The 2021 proposed amounts found within the budget are subject to change once the budget is finalized and tax rate is determined.

A portion of the budget that has generated much debate on social media has been the Atascosa County Animal Control Facility budget found on page 56.

Judge Hurley stated following his comments that he is very defensive of the folks who have worked so hard with him on the budget. After the Commisioners Court meeting, Judge Hurley reported they have cut $4.5 million from the budget.

“To develop the 2021 budget, we have had to analyze the revenue shortfall for this year and next,” said Judge Hurley. “We are expecting a $3-3.5 million drop in sales tax revenue this year and cannot count on its full revival in 2021. The drop in the 2021 ad valorem or property tax base is over $400,000,000. Just as the increase in the property tax base for 2020 drove down the county property tax base roughly 10 cents per hundred to the current rate, we are seeing the reported reduced appraisal from our appraisal district drive up the ‘no new tax rate’ or the ‘effective tax rate’ for this new budget about the same.”

To maintain current revenue levels, the county would have to drop its rate to $0.552995, which was listed on the county public notice as the ‘no new revenue tax rate.’ The ‘voter approval tax rate,’ also listed on the public notice, is the highest tax rate Atascosa County may adopt without holding an election to seek voter approval of the rate. To trigger an election, the ‘voter approval tax rate’ would need to reach $0.579455 per $100. The proposed tax rate is .000001 under the threshold at $.579454, so no voter approval is required.

The historical Atascosa County tax rates for the past 10 years according to the Atascosa County Appraisal District, have been:

• 2011: 0.5384
• 2012: 0.4528
• 2013: 0.3406
• 2014: 0.2970
• 2015: 0.3632
• 2016: 0.4807
• 2017: 0.5799
• 2018: 0.6199
• 2019: 0.5999
• 2020: 0.4977
• 2021(proposed):

Judge’s Comments

“It has been our goal to cut millions of dollars from the current budget to hold this increase,” said Judge Hurley. “And, we have. We have done some diligent hard work at my request by these commissioners, our auditor and our elected and non-elected department heads. They have all worked together with me on this difficult task.”

Judge Hurley stated the county has frozen hirings and expects attrition in county jobs this year and next year to produce over $500K in savings.

“We have literally cut millions from the projected budget by working with the department heads line by line,” said Judge Hurley. “The commissioners, the auditor and I have had many meetings, which were publicly posted. We would go through the budget lines cutting and tabulating the total. The commissioners set the example by cutting heavily from their own budgets and committing to cut one person from each of their yards. Our employees have accepted the fact there will be no annual cost of living adjustments for this year.”

Judge Hurley stated that the reviews and cuts happened numerous times until they could project realistic revenue and expense totals and have a balanced budget.

“And, we have,” stated Hurley. “Our cuts have reached the point where we only have left is cutting county services. The County funds, your EMS ambulance service, your jail, law enforcement and your courts. We pay for court security, court staff, court record maintenance, indigent defense, staff for elections, Juvenile Justice, Indigent Health Care, road and bridge maintenance, deed and records maintenance, health – environmental – sanitation – animal control, and Emergency Management. Which one do we cut?”

Citizens’ Comments

The first citizen to make public comments was local business owner and former Jourdanton City Manager, Kendall Schorsch.

Schorsch stated, “I appreciate the cuts that y’all have made. Honestly, I understand how hard this is. I have been in your situation before. I do want to explain, from a small business owner, pretty much every business I know of is running on about a 60% budget, right. So, 40% of our income has been gone as a small business. And, we are going to get this tremendous tax increase on small businesses. We are struggling just to keep employees hired and paid for. Everybody is struggling and in the same boat.”

Schorsch said that he is disappointed. “We cannot bank on oil. Now, you are going to strap small businesses down a little bit harder … and affect our {business} and affect our employees and affect everything that goes right back down to the bottom line again. I want to express my concerns and also ask you to go back and look again.”

Schorsch ended by asking Commissioners to consider a 40% cut. “That is what everybody else is having to do, or at least in our boat they are. Thank you.”

Following Schorsch, District Judge Lynn Ellison spoke for ten minutes specifically about the Commissioners and his confidence in their decisions on the proposed budget and tax increase.

Michael Vickers, a Jourdanton resident who is a real estate agent with Dowdy Real Estate, was the last person to make comments about the tax increase.

“Mr. Ellison got up here and talked about you guys,” said Vickers. “I know y’all very well myself. I’ve known y’all for a long time and I’m not against any of you guys. Mark and I have been on several vacations. I consider him a good friend. But I think all of us citizens are here just asking you guys to look this thing over really well.”

Vickers referenced comments about the oil field stating that it has been here for 30 years and the county should have been prepared for a drop. He also referenced that he understood COVID-19 played a role in the current situation.

“We knew this day was coming,” said Vickers. “Why is the budget in such a big hole? I know COVID-19 contributed to that. I get that, but you should have known that was coming as well. We talk about property taxes going down last year. Well, not really. Not when you raise the values. I’ve never seen the value of anything go down.”

Commissioner Stuart Knowlton, Pct. 2, who earlier had encouraged residents to protest their taxes, interjected a question to Vickers, “Did you ever protest?”

“Yes sir, I have protested several times,” stated Vickers to Commissioner Knowlton. “Every year, I protested, and I’ve gotten very little done to nothing done. And you’re talking about the property values going down. Well, guess what? I’m in real estate. My income is going to be less than half of last year. If you raise taxes, there’s going to be less people buying. You know what that’s going to do. It’s going to bring your values down even more. Guys, this is cyclical. You’ve got to think about the future, not just today and what can I get done today? Think about next year, five years from now. Just like when the boom came, everybody in the world knew when you were building this building across the street, building the dog pound over here, the new precinct building over there, everybody’s said, ‘What are they thinking? This money’s going to go away.’”

Vickers went on to say that his budget was drastically cut this year and that he tightened his belt. “I made cuts. I’m not going to the welfare office asking for more money. I’m just going to do what I’ve got to do. And I’m begging you guys just to look it over. In-depth. Cut where you can. And you know, you’re going to upset 20 people. If they’re cutting their jobs, I get it. But it’s better than upsetting 50,000. I think we can all agree on that.”

Vickers appealed to Commissioners to please apply for grants and asked them if they had. Three of the four commissioners nodded yes. He said, “That is good. I beg you to continue to apply for grants.”

Vickers ended his comments by stating that he is not jumping on Commissioners or being disrespectful. He said he understands why one would get defensive because of the comments about the tax increases in ‘Facebook land.’

“I’m just asking you to look over this and cut it as much as you can. Thank you, gentlemen.”

Proposed Tax Rate

Regarding the tax rate, Judge Hurley stated, “I led this current effort to develop a reasonable tax rate that would keep the county functions open. And, just as we saw the oil field valuations come back up in 2017 and 2018 and lower the tax down, it will be our goal and our hope that as the economy comes back in 2021, we will see this tax rate start dropping again in the same manner. The oil economy in Atascosa is a double-edged sword cutting both ways. It is great when it goes up and drops our personal residential property tax rates, but terrible when it crashes and causes these agonizing fluctuations.”

Judge Hurley, who took office in January 2015, ended his comments by stating, “I want to address those nasty, hate-filled postings I see on Facebook. They are often venomous, and often ill-informed. The only thing I have to say to you, and you know who you are making the threats, is this–I am the constitutional county budget, or finance officer if you will, and these commissioners and this auditor and these other elected officials have busted their backs to work on this at my request. And I have nothing but commendation for them. If you want to hold somebody responsible, that person is me. My office is up in the election in a little over two years. Do whatever you think is right. That is what an election is for. In the meantime, I am right here anytime you have questions. I am happy to try to explain to those who are willing to listen. I always have been.”

A homeowner may calculate their taxes owed under any of the tax rates mentioned above as follows: Property tax amount = (tax rate) x (taxable value of your property)/100.

Contact your county judge, commissioners

Citizens are encouraged to contact the Atascosa County Judge and Commissioners with concerns or questions about the tax rate.

The telephone number to the Atascosa County Judge’s office is 830-769- 3093. The following are emails for the judge and commissioners:

• countyjudge@atascosacounty. to reach Judge Bob Hurley

• commissioner1@atascosacounty. to reach Mark Gillespie, Pct. 1

• commissioner2@ to reach Stuart Knowlton, Pct. 2

• commissioner3@atascosacounty. to reach Eliseo Perez, Pct. 3

• commissioner4@atascosacounty. to reach Kennard Riley, Pct. 4

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