Entering the week, Wharton County Judge Phillip Spenrath described the proposed 2021-22 budget as “tentative” while county leaders wait on the Central Appraisal District’s (CAD) latest taxable valuations.
The last estimates the county received from the CAD were in June, Spenrath said Monday during a budget workshop.
The county is required by state statute to file a proposed budget by July 31.
However, the CAD is required to have certified values by July 25. For CAD Chief Appraiser Tylene Gamble this is the last day she certifies an appraisal roll to each taxing unit, including Wharton County. It is the last day Gamble prepares and certifies to Assessor Collector Cindy Hernandez each taxing unit an estimate of the taxable value of properties if the CAD’s Appraisal Review Board has not approved the appraisal records by July 20.
These valuations will give Wharton County’s elected leaders what they need to be used in the tax rate process, Gamble said Friday.
Spenrath is counting on new valuations for various reasons, but he singled out employee raises.
“If there are some new values, it would enable us to give a pay increase we believe,” Spenrath said Monday. “There is new value right now that looks like we could be in position to give increases.”
Citing state law, Gamble said when values go up, the tax rate goes down. Spenrath, who is working on his 11th county budget as judge, shared this sentiment with commissioners during their meeting.
He has long boasted about the county not raising taxes for a decade. The current budget raised more revenue from property taxes than the year before by an amount of $123,504, which was a 0.73 percent increase. The property tax revenue raised from new property added to the current tax roll was $194,710.
Spenrath mentioned solar farms that could boost county valuations. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are several companies that are behind in operations.
Gina Franz, account executive with Aerotek, said last month it was still working to hire 900 solar construction positions (general laborers and heavy equipment operators) in Wharton and Brazoria counties.
“Everything is about January 1, 2020,” Gamble said. “Hecate in Danevang was in play. It had some equipment and some work done so we have a partial value for 2021.”
She said the pandemic pushed Hecate’s start date back. In fact, Hecate filed with the State Comptroller’s Office and amended its 313 tax abatement agreement to its first operation year not being 2021, but rather 2022.
“On January 1, we had one solar farm that was partial and Hecate’s value for 2021 is $20 million,” Gamble said.
There are at least six solar farm applications projected through 2023 in Wharton County, including one on CR 207 between Hungerford and East Bernard called Solar Branch Solar Project.
“People and contractors know about it, they see it when they drive past it, but they didn’t put a stick of equipment, break a fence, or do anything on CR 207 until March,” Gamble said.