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ESD No. 1 Audit Discussed in Commissioners Court

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Appraisal District Proposed Budget Raises Eyebrows

By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY – During the Houston County Commissioners Court meeting held on Tuesday, July 14, the Emergency Services District No. 1 (ESD) financial statement and audit report for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 was presented to the court.

Houston County Auditor Melissa Jeter explained a change in the law during 2016 allowed for ESDs not to hire an outside auditing firm to perform audits and allowed for county auditors to do so, helping to save them approximately $4,000.

“Since that time, I have been doing their audit. Overall, my opinion is that they are very effective in their checks and balances. They have very good internal controls. Each one has a separate step in the controls. They are very meticulous in their record keeping and their fund balance has grown over the last several years,” the county auditor said.

Following the ESD audit discussion, the next topic for discussion concerned the Houston County Appraisal District (HCAD) proposed budget for FY 2021.

“I am noticing the raises are not quite as high as they have been in the past. I think last year it was 10 percent across the boards. The total budget is definitely up,” County Judge Jim Lovell said.

Jeter informed the court the county’s portion of the HCAD budget would be $219,388 in FY 2021 while in FY 2020 the county provided the HCAD with $197,000.

“We will have to come up with an additional $20,000 to fund this,” Jeter said.

“Most of that is in raises, isn’t it?” Judge Lovell questioned.

The auditor replied she would need to examine this more carefully but said she believed in FY 2020 the HCAD used a portion of their fund balance to cover their budget. This year, however, Jeter explained it was unavailable.

Precinct Two Commissioner Willie Kitchen added, “We pay more than any other entity, so everyone else will be lower than ours. I was told years ago it would take all of the taxing entities to object – or at least the majority of entities – to object before they would have to go back to the table and figure out how to lower it (budget). In fact, I think we tried to get a few of them on board and say we should at least put this in the form of a resolution saying how we are opposed to some of the liberal raises, but I’m not sure if we got anyone else to participate.”

The commissioner went on to say with the state of affairs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, now was not the time for the county to be forced to dip into their revenue stream to fund the HCAD raises.

Before the meeting was adjourned, Kitchen brought forward an issue concerning appraisal values and revenue caps.

“The state mandated appraisals to be increased. At the same time, we have revenue caps. Does that seem contradictory when you look at this?” he asked.

He explained the state had placed a cap on the amount of money a county could raise through taxes but at the same time the appraisal districts were told to go up on their appraised values.

“The governor has made the statement that raising appraisals does not make your property tax go up,” the judge said with a straight face.

Following several minutes of discourse, the meeting was adjourned.

In other matters brought before the court:  

  • The commissioners approved the minutes from previous meetings.
  • The payment of bills and expenses incurred by the county, were approved.
  • The Houston County Environmental Report were received as information by the court.
  • The court approved salaries for new and/or transfer employees.
  • Lois Ball was appointed representative for Houston County to the Burke Center.
  • An airport hangar lease transfer from Mark Whitfill to Gordon Shaw was approved by the court.
  • The commissioners approved providing notices of non-renewal for maintenance services to EDoc Technologies and Image Tek.
  • The court accepted a donation of fruit boxes from the Good Shepherd Fellowship Church for the Home Delivered Meal program to be distributed to clients.

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

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