In continuing to be open and transparent about the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019-20, Wharton County Judge Phillip Spenrath said the Commissioners Court has made a couple of changes that would continue to leave the tax levy as is.

Furthermore, the proposed 2 cent hike will cover the 23rd District Court operations, health insurance increase, a murder trial and indigent attorney fees, county employee retirement contribution-TCRS, CAD, and adult probation. 

“Since I saw you last at the (Sept. 12) meeting, we’ve changed (a) new recurring expenditure,” said Spenrath, who spoke to Wharton County Auditor Barbara Starling about the change.

There will be $100,000 added to the indigent attorney fees, which allows a person who has been arrested by law enforcement to have legal counsel if he/she cannot afford an attorney.

“The district courts are burning through attorneys, primarily in Child Protective Services,” Spenrath said. He added that everyone in a courtroom usually gets an attorney.

Spenrath said for the county to include another $100,000 in indigent attorney fees for district court, the county is counting on more revenue to sales tax.

“(Starling) feels adding another $100,000 from sales tax will cover (Indigent attorney fees) so it doesn’t change the levy we told people about,” Spenrath said. “We want to make sure we bring in as much as we spend things. It’s part of having a balanced budget.”

The new recurring expenditures total $523,000, and it includes the 23rd District Court ($245,000), indigent attorney fees ($100,000), employee health insurance increase ($86,000), employee retirement contribution-TCRS ($70,000), CAD budget ($12,000) and adult probation ($10,000).

Had the county proposed a 1 cent increase as compared to the 2 cents it is now, it would have only equaled $361,000, which would have feel short to pay for these services next fiscal year. 

General Fund

When Spenrath showed commissioners a summary of one time expenditures, it included the General Fund, Road & Bridge and FMLR categories. 

Spenrath’s proposal is to add $100,000 to Buildings & Maintenance for a total of $240,000. He mentioned the destroyed Wharton County Historical Museum and see if something could be helped with there.

“I haven’t talked to anyone with the historical museum, so I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Spenrath said.

The indigent attorney fees have been added to the General Fund.

Under Road & Bridges, each commissioner will have $1.2 million for precinct equipment. The county has proposed budgeting $250,000 for the Peach Creek and CR 135 bridge, which is in Precinct 1.

Budget comparison

Spenrath said if the budget is passed, the county will be spending $1,003,622 more for FY 2019-20, which begins Oct. 1.

The total budget for 2020 is $25,781,846 compared to $24,778,224 in 2019 and $24,721,360 in 2018.

According to the information Spenrath presented, the county has been debt free since 2014.

The $.46240 tax rate will raise more revenue from property taxes than last year’s budget by an amount of $965.115, which is a 6.00 increase from last year’s budget. The .46240 rate will raise taxes for maintenance and operations on a $100,000 home by approximately $23.

The court had its first special public hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 27. The next one is Tuesday, Sept. 3 at 11 a.m. inside the Courthouse Annex Building.

Three-year plan

The Commissioners Court verbally agreed that the first, second and third assistant district attorneys who work under Wharton County District Attorney Dawn Allison should receive a pay raise. They discussed this during an update on the county’s three-year Comprehensive Plan.

The total pay increase is $40,970, which includes benefits, said Spenrath. Their pay raise is not or will not be associated with a 3 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) that other county employees may be receiving if the budget is approved. The assistant DAs pay raise if a base amount. 

The amount that commissioners agreed to pay for a raise are first assistant ($73,488.28 to $80,000), second assistant ($59,757.80 to $75,000) and third assistant ($58,419.29 to $70,000).

The funds to pay for this increase will come from the Indigent Health Care contingency fund, which will drop from $512,622 to $471,652, which equals the amount that three assistants will be given for increase in pay. 

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