By CLINT FOSTER
PALO PINTO – After a four-month process of countless meetings, deliberation, workshops, amendments and public hearings, on Monday morning the Palo Pinto County Commissioners Court finalized the budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which will include a tax increase.
County property taxes will rise by 2 cents per $100 taxable property valuation for the next fiscal year, with the overall rate rising from 33.2 cents to 35.2 cents per $100. This means the owner of a $50,000 property will pay $10 more in county taxes than they did this year, a $100,000 property, $20, a $150,000 property, $30, and so on.
Palo Pinto County Judge David Nicklas said the tax hike comes despite diligent efforts by commissioners to cut expenses in the budget. In addition to regular cost increases, the courthouse has many much-needed repairs that commissioners have been putting off for some time.
“The commissioners have done an excellent job over the years keeping the taxes low, keeping the budget low,” Nicklas said. “The budget is very well thought out. I don’t think there’s a lot of extraneous expenditures this year. I regret that we had to raise taxes, but that’s part of the business. When you look at what county taxes are around the state, of the 254 counties there are probably not more than 20 counties that have a lower tax rate than we do.”
Chief among the necessary updates at the courthouse are a new elevator and electrical system. Nicklas said the elevator is in such disrepair that it has become more cost efficient to replace rather than continue to repair. On that same note, he said the electrical system has truly become a hazard with breaker boxes and wiring that are not up to code.
“The electrical system in the courthouse is very antiquated and really needs to be worked on,” he said. “The worst thing that could happen is we have a fire and it destroys the courthouse. Without upgrading our electrical system it’s just going to continue to be a high risk. We’ve had a couple of occasions where we’ve actually smelled smoke. It’s an expensive process and over the years commissioners have felt we just couldn’t afford to do it. This year it’s something that we feel like really needs to be done.”
Improved courthouse security is the final update that commissioners seek in the new budget. Nicklas said, in light of recent events around the nation, commissioners felt it was necessary to add a full time deputy to the staff and implement additional electronic security measures such as video cameras.
Nicklas said although he knows the tax increase – however minor – is a burden to tax payers, he hopes they are understanding. He added that citizens age 65 or older with a homestead exemption will not see an increase in their taxes, unless they have made improvements to their homestead.
With regards to taxes, Nicklas was very grateful for the contributions of property owners around Possum Kingdom Lake, whose assets comprise about 48 percent of the Palo Pinto tax base.
“We’re blessed to have those assets up there to help us out,” he said.
In other business, commissioners:
• Approved a request to re-plat Phase 3, Section 5, Lots 555-R & 556-R of The Hills Above Possum Kingdom Lake Subdivision.
• Held public hearings and approved the district clerk’s “Preservation and Restoration of Records Plan” and the county clerk’s annual “Record Archive Plan.”
• Appointed Dr. Ed Evans to continue as the local health authority for Palo Pinto County.
•Approved a SAVN, VINE grant, maintenance contract with the attorney general’s office and a service agreement renewal with Appriss.
•Approved request for proposal for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, electrical, insulation and solar system for the records-retention facility and set a date to open bids.
•Approved Marilyn Jackson for the juvenile case manager position under authority of Code of Criminal Procedure.
•Approved juvenile case manager fee collection and establishment of juvenile case management fund under the authority of Code of Criminal Procedure.
•Approved renewal of County Choice Silver with a rate increase.
•Approved adoption of order setting commissioners court regular scheduled court meeting dates for 2014.
•Approved order setting Palo Pinto County employee holidays for 2014.
•Approved temporary water lines using existing culverts on Old Christian Road, in Precinct 2, by Newark E & P Operating LLC.
•Approved Phillips 66 Pipeline LLC to cut on Green Street in Precinct 2.
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