By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

HOIUSTON COUNTY – After several proposals and revisions, the Commissioners Court of Houston County adopted the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 tax rate early on the morning of Friday, Sept. 16 to support the FY 2017 budget.

In a called session of the court, the one agenda item meeting was convened at 8:30 a.m. and a motion was made, seconded and an order was approved to adopt the county’s tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year.

The order stated, “… that ad valorem taxes on property located in Houston County for the year 2016 shall be levied and collected from property owners at the following rates, based on each $100 of assessed valuation of 0.454 for maintenance and operations and 0.07 for debt service for a total tax rate of 0.524.”

With no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 8:40 a.m.

Houston County’s FY 2016 tax rate was .50400 per $100 of property valuation and the initial proposed tax rate for FY 2017 in Houston County was .54190. The FY 2017 effective tax rate for is .54193 per $100 of property valuation.

According to Section 26.16 of the Texas Property Tax Code, “The effective tax rate is the rate that would generate the same amount of revenue in the current tax year as was generated by a taxing unit’s adopted tax rate in the preceding tax year from property that is taxable in both the current tax year and the preceding tax year. The rollback tax rate is the highest tax rate a taxing unit may adopt before requiring voter approval at an election.”

After several county officials and residents expressed concern about a possible four cent tax hike, a second budget workshop was held which was centered on keeping the tax rate the same as it was in FY 2016. When county officials saw the drastic cuts needed in each department to continue operations under the FY 2016 tax, a third meeting was held on the budget and tax rate.

The third workshop used a budget based on a tax rate of 0.524 per $100 valuation. While several services and staffing cuts were still necessary, the proposed tax rate of 0.524 – 0.0179 below the effective rate – was approved.

After the rate was formally adopted on Friday morning, County Judge Erin Ford commented on the process. “We were down substantially in our valuations in the county, which resulted in about an $800,000 shortfall on a $6 million budget. We spent a lot of time going through the infrastructure and the expenses that we have. I want to express my appreciation and admiration to the commissioners, as well as County Auditor Melissa Mosley, for the job they did to help streamline the budget for the benefit of the taxpayers. I’m also a taxpayer, so I really do appreciate their efforts. They are a good commissioner’s court (and county auditor). Houston County is lucky to have them,” he said.

The judge was also asked if he felt any of the contentiousness displayed in the courtroom would remain as the county begins its new fiscal year in October. “That is the thing that has been so unique in my experience with the Houston County Commissioners Court. We can have disagreements and arguments, but we are still truly friends. We like each other and we appreciate the work each of us perform. Each of us has a role and no one has a bigger role than anyone else,” Ford said.

Specifically asked about the acrimony displayed by individual department heads towards one another, the county judge replied, “I think this year was more difficult because we didn’t have the revenue to appropriate funds to the department heads which they felt were necessary to operate their individual departments. We did the best we could, based on the (revenue) shortfall we had to work with.”

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.