Smith County's approved budget brings raises, funding for jail expansion

Smith County's approved budget brings raises, funding for jail expansion

Commissioners approved the final budget for fiscal year 2014, bringing employee raises for the first time in years. In the process, they set the property tax rate at the same level it was previously.

That tax rate allows for revenue growth by virtue of the fact that property values are up across the county.

In 2013, Smith County took in about $73.5 million dollars. But for 2014 it should be right at $75 million. Judge Joel Baker's second proposed budget called for just over $65 million in spending, which represents a $3 million increase over 2013.

During Monday's public hearing, some supported the plan.

"I'm asking you today to adopt this budget that you have planned," Bobby Garmon said.

Others asked commissioners to re-consider.

"I have some concerns," Sharon Guthrie told commissioners.

About $2 million in increased spending comes from salaries.

Part of that is for hiring new deputies to staff the newly expanded jail. Non-elected employees receive a raise of 1.5 percent. Elected officials will, on average, receive a raise that's several times that. Some say it's unfair.

"So for these reasons Grassroots America opposes the budget you are about to adopt," Grassroots America Executive Director JoAnn Fleming said during the public hearing.

According to the county, elected positions had previously been underpaid compared to other counties--and the larger raises just bring them in line. Commissioners and the County Judge will not receive raises.

"I need to attempt to do that in a way that will assure a vote to actually pass a budget," Baker said. "I can't just create it in a vacuum and think 'hey this is great.'"

For a while now, Grassroots America has been accusing the county of not having a long-range plan and over-paying for things because of it.

"Not only have we done that planning, we've put action behind the plans," Baker said. "We've completed more facilities projects. We're doing more with regard to the facilities and infrastructure in Smith County than has been done in years."

But Grassroots believes expenses like Smith County's family court overages and some of the work that's being done on county roads could have been avoided with better planning and less spending.

"And maybe there will be an occasion from time to time when you can just simply adopt your effective tax rate and we won't have any increase," Fleming said. "Because here's the problem. Small business is struggling."

The county auditor's projections place the balance of the general revenue fund at around $17 million at the end of the 2013 fiscal year. A year later, it's expected to have fallen to $13 million.

Click here to see the full budget.


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