Tax rate lowered; citizens speak out at 2nd Public Hearing on Tax IncreaseFree Access

Final public hearing for approval and adoption of 2021 Atascosa County Budget, Sept. 21, 9 a.m.

Former Atascosa County Commissioner, Weldon Cude says make deeper cuts to 2021 proposed Atascosa County budget.

At the second Atascosa County public hearing on the 2021 proposed budget and tax increase, five residents spoke to the commissioners. during public hearing comments. Each citizen acknowledged the hard work of the Judge and the Commissioner’s but implored them to please go back and make deeper cuts on the budget.

A specific request for an evening public hearing meeting after work hours was made so that more citizens would be able to attend the public hearing. The final public hearing will take place Monday, September 21 at 9 a.m. where the budget will be considered for approval and adoption at the Atascosa County Courthouse. The meeting will be broadcast live on YouTube. The link will be published on the Atascosa County Facebook page prior to the meeting. To watch the second public tax hearing, access it from a link on the Atascosa County Facebook page. As of Sunday, the meeting had 361 views.

At the second public hearing Judge Hurley said that he and county auditor had made further cuts of the proposed budget and trimmed down the adopting tax rate from $0.5794. to $0.5692 for 2021. “We have a balanced budget to adopt and have produced cuts of over $475M,” said Judge Hurley. “As I explained, there is nowhere else to go but to start cutting into the ‘meat and bone’ of important county functions and those cuts may not be recoverable in future years.”

The totals of the proposed 2021 budget as of Friday, was income: $41,872,250.21 and Expense:  $41,872,250.21. The 2020 Budget was Income: $43,541,591.80 and Expense:  43,541,591.80. To review the proposed 2021 Atascosa County budget please go to www.atascosacounty.texas.

Atascosa County Judge Bob Hurley stated at the second hearing that the county is facing a severe 2021 Fiscal Year budget dilemma.

“Our sales tax revenue is projected to be down this year over $3,000,000 (3M) and the appraisal district gave Atascosa a reduced ad valorem inventory value of over $400,000,000 (400M),” said Judge Hurley. “What a reduced ad valorem level does is force up the effective tax rate (‘no new tax rate’) which in effect raises taxes. What the design of this rate does is to create a rate at which the same number of dollars are created as in the previous (existing) year which the budget is written in for the coming fiscal year. When the values go down (which we have no  control over) the ‘no new tax rate’ goes up. That is the nature of this ‘beastly’ state governed property tax system.”

Judge Hurley stated that the effective tax rate or “no new tax rate” set by the state formula (which the county is required to follow) is .552995. “If we do not work off this rate and tried to work off the old rate, we would be facing cutting over 30% of county workers and programs, including courts, law enforcement and jail management and emergency management, including EMS Ambulance Service,” said Judge Hurley.

BUDGET CUTS

Some of the budget areas cut according to the judge are:

  • Temporarily cut 12 employees, by attrition, from the county payroll for a $550,000 savings
  • For 2021, the commissioners cut more than two million dollars from road and bridge budgets
  • Other departments pressed made cuts totaling one million dollars
  • There will be no employees raises in pay or benefits for 2021

PUBLIC COMMENTS

The first resident to speak the public hearing was Glen Fargo, Poteet.  Fargo stated that a tax increase pokes the stick at one subject that no one wants to talk about – tax increase.

“It’s a dirty word,” said Fargo. “I realize it has to be done at one point or another. My question, I just want to bring up a few points. Back in April when the shutdowns were starting to happen and everything, why didn’t we lay off some County workers? Let them collect state unemployment. Let them cut some of the money from the feds and then hire them back after things picked up, or that money runs out? That could have saved the county a lot of money in the long run.”

Fargo brought up the animal control services budget at $700,000 and questioned the need to spend that much money. “Do we really need to spend that much money for a dog catcher running all the time? We have four constables with budgets?”  He implored the Commissioners Court to trim down the budget. “There’s more that can be trimmed down on this budget. Where the people who work, struggling, trying to make their living, don’t need to be taxed more than they can afford it. This pandemic has hit everybody in a hard way. And this is a tough job for the commissioner’s court, I realize that.”

Fargo also told the court that a hearing at 9 a.m. on a workday isn’t optimal. “Having a court hearing 9:00 on a work day when people are having to work, and can’t come instead of having one at 6:00 in the evening where you can have a better turnout, and people’s answers can be answered would be more beneficial than having it at 9:00 in the morning,” said Fargo. “I’ll give you kudos for having three of them, but one should have been held at night.”

Fargo said that he is fortunate that he can come speak up for the people who can’t speak up for themselves. “I beg you,” said Fargo. “Please go back, trim as much as you can. I realize you’re going to have to do a tax hike. Maybe not as much as you want, maybe do a little bit. And the next year, if we need to, if we’re in a deficit, do a little bit more. But please consider the people who cannot afford it. Thank you.”

Weldon Cude, who served as Atascosa County Commissioner from 1988-2010, five terms with one unexpired term, was the second citizen to speak.

“Don’t think I’m here to gripe at you,” said Cude. “I’m here to give you some history… I’ve probably done this budget more than all y’all combined if you stop and look at the years. And there were times that we didn’t have $300,000 left over. We cut wages, we laid people off. There are two ladies behind you that know what we went through and it was bad. It was tough. And I know what you’re going through. It’s tough. It’s frustrating. But you’ve gone from here to here and you’re having to come back to here and I understand what you’re dealing with. The dragline used to bounce back and forth. We went and negotiated the deal where it wouldn’t affect the effective rate like it did. Now the draglines immaterial. Look at what you’re dealing with the oil field. It’s going to be that [inaudible 00:31:42]. The effective rate, I got no problem with. You’ve got to raise the taxes to generate the same thing because values go down. But when values go up, we got to watch it. I mean, it’s just got to be careful.

Cude expressed concern over the road and bridge budget while offering up that he felt the commissioners have done a great job on roads.

“I’m concerned that we’ve gotten out of hand,” said Cude. “You said you cut $2 million of the road and bridge budget. There were times we didn’t have $2 million road and bridge budge. It’s the same number of roads. You guys have done a great job on the roads. They’re better now than they’ve ever been. And it’s appreciated.

Cude stated that he knows a lot of hard work and sweat went into the budget but that there are people who are not going to be able to pay their taxes. “I hear it every day,” said Cude. “They’re screaming and hollering. And we’re fortunate we live in rural County America. We’re fortunate that we have the county we live in. We’re the seventh largest County in the state of Texas. We’ve got more lateral roads than 90% of the counties out there. We’re a unique situation, Atascosa County, we really are. The mileage for Lytle is huge. I know what you are dealing with.”

Cude suggested that the Commissioners Court look at the effective rate. “And if you’re going to do that, go ahead and raise it to the maximum, over the maximum, and see if you get a petition. That’s what’s going to happen. Then you’re going to be faced with the rollback. Then it’s going to be even worse. But either stick with the effective rate, which is fair and just, and you’ve got money in savings to do it. I know you do but stick with it and live with it and make your budgets fit.”

“You have to cut some more,” said Cude. “We all survived the ’90s. We all survived the ’80s. And you’ll survive it again. And it’ll come back slowly in June. And be sparing with it. I love the new justice center. I don’t like the waste station. I think it’s a waste of time and money, but that’s my opinion. The dog pound. I might as well live in the Hilton. That’s my opinion. And there’s a lot of people feel like I do. But at the same time, you’ve done good stewards of the county on certain things. And I appreciate that. And I think Bob has had a lot of challenges face him. And every one of y’all had to have your ears open. And I appreciate that very much. But at the same time, you’re not hearing what’s hitting the public right now. The public is upset. They’re dying. We’ve got buildings going vacant. Those people are not going to pay their taxes. You’re going to see this. It’s going to kill you. This year, and next year is worse. So that’s my opinion. Thank you for your time and good luck.”

Mike Zuniga, Charlotte spoke next.

“I’m here for the county, not for myself,” said Mike Zuniga. “A lot of ranchers live on a fixed income. And you were talking about oil while ago, going up and down. Some ranchers don’t have mineral rights. So, we can’t count on that. I served my country. I was in the Republic of Vietnam. I’m down to one eye, one kidney and I lost my hearing. I don’t want pity. My point doesn’t get raises. Majority of people don’t get raises, and you’re trying to raise our taxes. And when you live on a fixed income, it’s hard to live that way. If you go to raise taxes and you try to create revenue, why don’t we start at the top? Let’s lower your wages. Let’s cut people. Let’s start at the top. Cattle don’t go up all the time. They yo-yo. Oil will yo-yo. you can’t depend on for the ranches to live like that. There’s a lot of things being done here in the county that shouldn’t have been done. Then we spent a lot of money to useless. And that’s my point. Thank you for your time.”

Clint Holmes, Atascosa County rancher was next to speak. He stated how he appreciated the opportunity to speak and said that he knows the Commissioners Court has a tough job. He thanked the road work in precinct three and said there has been great improvement. “Mainly the main point I want to get across is that I’m not a tax expert,” said Holmes. “I’m not a government expert. But in the private sector doing business, we’ve all taken cuts. A lot. All the way to the top. I guess you would say, I’m the CEO of my company, my ranch. My employees have taken a cut. I’ve taken a cut. And I think it’s the absolute worst time in the world to be doing this to us as taxpayers in this County. It ain’t the right time. And cattle market’s bad. Industry’s bad. Everything’s bad.”

“It’s not just bad for the municipalities,” said Holmes. “It’s bad for all of us. Raising it to the maximum out without it going to a vote, in my opinion is wrong. And there can be another number there. Or if you want to raise it another 000.1% and then let’s raise it, and let’s let it go to a vote, and let the citizens decide what it’s going to be. It’s my opinion. Like I say, I’ve known all of you, most of you, my whole life. You’re all friends. We’re still friends, but I’m begging you. I’m asking y’all. Please.”

 

 

 

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