SMITH COUNTY, Texas — During a public hearing Tuesday, two residents spoke to Smith County Commissioners about their concerns on the fiscal year 2019-2020 budget, specifically the proposed property tax.

County Judge Nathaniel Moran proposed raising the Smith County property tax rate by less than a penny from 33.7311 cents per $100 property value to 34.5 cents.

Former Smith County Commissioner JoAnn Fleming says the new tax is an unnecessary burden on property owners.

Fleming, who is the executive director for Grassroots America-We the People Political Action Committee, says the extra money that would come from a property tax increase could come from other sources.

“They are sitting on between a 45 and 48% surplus or reserved fund,” Fleming said.

Flemming explained that it is county policy to carry over 25% of the operating expenses to go into a reserve fund.

“We would like to see the county use that (the reserve fund) to fund this budget,” Flemming said. “So, we're saying that you can actually find a way to fund this budget with no tax increase whatsoever.”

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Smith County

Russell Buffington, former chief investigator for the Smith County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, says he also is frustrated with the county's proposal to raise the property taxes.

“No one likes paying property taxes,” Buffington said. “I encourage the county to look into more creative ways of financing some improvements like we had done back in the 90s with probation or trustee or prisoner labor.”

Buffington also spoke about the reserve fund but regarding the fact that the county should set aside money.

“More money is a good thing,” Buffington explained. “Especially in the event of an emergency.”

Smith Co. tax rate
Smith County

He was not in support though of a salary increase for a county employee that’s in the budget.

“Karen Phillips is the county clerk and in her in her initial budget, she gave herself a $20,000 raise over her nearly $74,000 salary now,” Buffington explained.

Phillips is the wife to Commissioner Terry Phillips, who was not at the meeting. Phillips is the only commissioner who voted against the proposed budget in a July meeting.

“My understanding is that that a $5,000 raise, or nearly 7%, for her is still currently in the budget when the rest of the rank and file are getting 1.5%,” Buffington explained.

Even though Buffington was against the property tax increase and one salary raise, he was in support of the proposed budget. He even praised the county judge and three commissioners who were at the public hearing.

“They make good decisions on behalf of the County," Buffington said.

The Smith County Commissioners will vote on the upcoming budget during a regularly scheduled meeting Aug. 27.