Many Nueces County residents will be seeing an increase in their tax bills during the next fiscal year after county leaders approved an increase in taxable revenue, along with an $85.3 million budget.
County leaders unanimously voted Aug. 27 to leave the tax rate for the 2008-09 Fiscal Year at 35 cents per $100 valuation, an amount that is still above the effective tax rate of 33 cents per $100 valuation calculated from the Appraisal District's certified tax roll.
Because the proposed tax rate is higher than the effective tax rate, it is an increase for the county's taxpayers. Rising appraisal values for homes in the county will also add to higher taxes being paid by some homeowners.
About 75 percent of the county's revenue comes from ad valorem taxes, and 62 percent of that revenue is used for law enforcement and justice administration, county officials said.
The adoption of a similar tax rate to last year's figure is designed to increase tax revenue for a county scrambling to counter rising fuel, energy and judicial costs that skyrocketed across the board during the 2007-08 fiscal year, county officials said.
"The same economic factors that are affecting every family in this country today - increased fuel, energy and food costs - all these things are affecting governments everywhere, particularly in the case of Nueces County government, in which nearly 75 percent of our revenue comes from property taxes," County Judge Loyd Neal said.
County Auditor Peggy Hayes said electricity costs are projected to cost the county nearly $532,000 more than had been budgeted for the 2007-08 fiscal year. The county is also projected to finish the fiscal year nearly $173,000 over budget on fuel costs.
The 2008-09 budget uses nearly 50 percent of about $3 million in additional revenue over the 2007-08 budget to fully fund $1.7 million in increased utility and fuel costs, Hayes said.
Some residents expressed concern during public meetings held last month that the increase will be more than some taxpayers, such as those living in rural areas known as colonias, will be able to pay.
"Some of these people, they're barely making it," Lionel Lopez, head of the South Texas Colonias Initiative, said. "They can't afford (a tax increase) - they can barely afford to eat."
During the last of two public meetings held near the end of August, county residents expressed their displeasure at the commissioners' reasoning for the rise in tax revenue. One Corpus Christi resident, Shae Salinas, told commissioners she felt county leaders could do more to ease the burden on taxpayers.
"You say we have to tighten our belts - you tighten your belt," Salinas said. "Find some places to cut."
Neal said the county is expected to nearly double how much it funds for court-appointed attorneys, an unfunded mandate from the state, which has cost the county about $2.1 million as of June, according to figures from the county auditor's office.
"Those unfunded mandates, such as indigent defense, have made it impossible to govern under the current situation," the county judge said. "We have a responsibility for all those things, such as drainage, the jails and the roads that people take for granted, but we have very limited resources to pay for all this."
The 2008-09 budget, among other things, contains a $1 million contingency fund to be used in the event of unexpected situations or costs, Hayes said. That amount is separate from the $12.8 million reserve fund balance, she added.
The fund balance is down about $635,000 from last year, due not only to the increased fuel and energy costs, but also to a larger-than-anticipated loss at the Richard M. Borchard Regional Fairgrounds. The facility, which is operating at a loss to the county of $4,200 a day, was budgeted to finish the 2007-08 fiscal year with a $784,000 loss. That figure is now projected to be nearly $1.3 million, county officials said.
Anticipating a similar loss during the next fiscal year, the 2008-09 county budget approved last week anticipates a $1.1 million loss at the fairgrounds, which has lost nearly $2.4 million since it opened in January 2007.
2008-09 Nueces County budget: Other additions
*An increase in travel per diem rate from $25 per day to $36 dollars per day for county employees
*Increases in mileage reimbursement rate from 42 cents per mile to 49 cents per mile for county employees
*Continue to provide an "over 65" and a Disability Tax Exemption of $62,500
*Continue to provide a Homestead Tax Exemption of 20 percent of the resident's home value