Washington County Commissioners approved the budget and tax rate for the new fiscal year at their meeting today (Tuesday).
After a public hearing with no comments, the court adopted a budget of $34.7 million, which will raise more revenue from property taxes than last year’s budget by $1.6 million, or 8.71 percent. Of that amount, $372,000 is tax revenue that will be raised from new property added to the tax roll this year.
Commissioners also levied a tax rate of $0.5032 per $100 valuation, up from the previous rate of $0.4950 per $100, which is effectively a 7.85 percent increase in the rate. Of the new rate, $0.4890 will be used for maintenance and operations (M&O), while $0.0142 will go toward payment on debt principal and interest. Commissioner Candice Bullock said the average Washington County homeowner will see an increase of approximately $86 in taxes.
Several members of the court stressed that the increase in property taxes was necessary to support pay raises for county employees. County Judge John Durrenberger explained that $1.5 million of the additional $1.6 million in property tax revenue is being used for salary increases, with Bullock noting approximately 56.25 percent of the pay raises are going to employees in public safety departments.
Bullock said she realizes that this decision may not be wise politically for her and the other members of the court who are seeking re-election, but reiterated that commissioners are doing this because they “care about this community” and want to retain the employees who serve it. She added that the county has three sources of revenue, those being property taxes, sales taxes and fines and fees, the latter of which are set by the legislature. She said sales taxes change as the economy fluctuates, and they are often used for economic development to mitigate the property tax burden on constituents.
Commissioner Joy Fuchs said the court does not think about running for re-election when making decisions like this; rather, she said commissioners “think about what’s best.” Commissioner Don Koester said the court hates to have to raise taxes, but it needs to be done because “it’s the only way that we can keep the people and make things work in this county.” Commissioner Kirk Hanath said he also does not want to raise taxes, but the state puts an undue burden on property taxes for local governments when legislators pass laws and programs and do not pay for them.
The court also levied a tax rate of $0.1500 cents per $100 for the Pecan Glen Road District. The tax will only be paid by residents of the Pecan Glen subdivision, and will be used to fund road improvements in the district.
Also in court, commissioners:
- Proclaimed September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in Washington County.
- Terminated and exercised an option on a lease-to-own agreement for the EMS helicopter hangar and real property on which it is located, and accepted the deed to the property. The hangar is next to the Washington Volunteer Fire Department on Highway 105. The county will now own the hangar after entering into the lease-to-own agreement in October 2020.
- Approved EMS rates for 2021. The new EMS fee schedule increases all charges by $50 except for rural mileage, which are up $5. Commissioners explained that these rates have not increased in 11 years, and that county residents will not be affected by the rate increases because they are only charged via their insurance, Medicare or Medicaid.
- Approved formal notice for two-inch road bores from Corix Utilities, Inc. for new service lines on Ike Lane in Precinct One and Clay Creek Road in Precinct 3.
- Tabled a formal notice for a 12-inch road bore for a water line by Corix Utilities, Inc. in Precinct 1. The agenda stated the water line was for Wellmann Road instead of Ellermann Road.
- Approved the position description for elections administrator clerk.
- Approved a 60-day extension of 22.75 excess vacation hours for Edward Ortega with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.