Unfunded Mandates Discussed
By Will Johnson
HOUSTON COUNTY – During an Oct. 13 meeting of the Houston County Commissioners Court, the commissioners gave the go ahead for an application for a tax abatement requested by Lincoln Lumber Crockett, LLC
On Tuesday, Nov 10, the court gave its consent and approved the tax abatement for the company. The most recent meeting of the Commissioners Court was called to order at 10 am on this past Tuesday and once the invocation and pledges had been given, County Judge Jim Lovell opened a public hearing on the proposed abatement.
As the hearing began, County Attorney Daphne Session informed the court a change to the abatement had been received.
“There has been a change Mr. (James) Gentry (Executive Director of the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation – CEIDC) just informed me about. The amount is different than what you have in your proposed draft,” the county attorney said.
Gentry explained, “This is actually a much better investment. We went from $10 million to an $11 million investment by Lincoln Lumber which will have a bigger impact on our community, as well as bringing more assets to bear. The figure is $11,083, 361.”
“As most of you know from our earlier conversations,” the CEIDC executive director continued, “this is a company that is well-established. Their home base is in Conroe, but they have locations throughout East Texas and Georgia. They have owned the property where they are for the last four or five years and they are actually in the process of acquiring the properties adjacent to this property, with the idea of expansion over the next five years. This is the initial investment of $11 million and the employment of 20 individuals at that site.”
With no further comments, Judge Lovell closed the hearing. A motion was then made to approve the abatement. The motion was seconded and unanimously approved.
According to the Lincoln Lumber website, “For over 40 years Lincoln Lumber has served as a premium provider of Lumber and Forestry products to markets across the Midwest and Southern United States. Throughout this time, Lincoln has built solid and lasting relationships with the best Partners our markets have to offer. We strongly believe in our business philosophies of Honesty, Integrity, and Quality, and as such we see both our customers and suppliers as Partners to which we are obligated to provide world-class service to meet and beat their expectations. From our locations in Texas and Georgia, we supply the highest quality lumber, in all grades, lengths, and dimensions, to both the end-users and the wholesale markets.”
The abatement is set to begin in 2022 and will be for 100 percent that year. In 2023, the abatement will be for 80 percent; in 2024 the abatement will be for 70 percent; in 2025, the abatement will be for 60 percent and in 2026, the abatement will be for 50 percent.
The agreement states, “This abatement shall be for five years, beginning Jan. 1, 2022. In no event shall the abatement continue after Dec. 31, 2026.”
As the meeting continued, a discussion on an Unfunded Mandate Survey for Houston County was held. An unfunded mandate is a statute or regulation that requires a state or local government to perform certain actions, with no money provided for fulfilling the requirements.
“This is a survey counties have been asked to fill out by the Texas Association of Counties (TAC). It is a big help when they (TAC) lobby the legislature and fight the unfunded mandates we have to pay for. This has really opened the legislature’s eyes as to what they do to counties, sometimes. They will pass a law but come back and say we don’t have the money so counties will have to pay for it,” Lovell said.
He added only 60 or so counties in the state had completed the survey and Houston County happened to be one.
“That is due to our auditor (Melissa Jeter) who completed that. I would like to – once again – say thank you to the auditor’s office,” Lovell said.
Jeter said she recently gave a presentation on the impact of Senate Bill 2, how it would affect local budgets and the no-new revenue tax rate.
She said there was a list of items the county must provide and indicated the expenses would more than likely continue to go up.
“The state has limited your ability to go up on taxes. Anything that is not listed is under local control and subject to be cut. That is where the commissioners will have a hard time on future budgets,” she said.
The auditor gave an example of registration fees.
“That rate has not gone up in years, but the amount it costs the tax office to collect that fee has continually gone up. That fee goes directly to the road and bridge accounts. It doesn’t fund anything else. The cost of collecting that fee – the majority goes to the state while we get to keep a small portion – in 2018 the cost was $126,000, last year the cost was $129,000 and this year the cost will be $135,000. The revenues are not going up so that’s just one piece of what the commissioners and commissioners’ courts will have to face. Your costs are going up but the state has limited your ability to fund what they require you to pay for,” Jeter said.
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 and Community Service Reports were received as information by the court.
- The court approved salaries for new and/or transfer employees.
- The court approved accepting a donation of 92 cases of eggrolls and 42 cases of chicken from Good Shepherd Outreach Ministry for use by the Houston County Sheriff’s Office for inmate meals.
- A resolution was adopted by the court to accept a TX DOT Aviation Division Airport Project Grant for runway upgrades at Houston County Airport. An interlocal agreement with the CEIDC was also approved to assist with the grant match.
- Hotel Occupancy Tax funding, in the amount of $1,000, was approved for the Piney Woods Fine Arts Association to assist with expenses for the Roger Creager concert scheduled for Friday, Nov. 20.
- A grant award in the amount of $18,779.25 from the Center for Tech and Civic Life to assist with election costs was approved by the court.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.