Grassroots America We The People has released the following statement concerning the Smith County Budget and Tax Rate.
The Honorable Nathaniel Moran, Acting Smith County Judge
First, thank you for the improvements you have already made to the Smith County Commissioners Court meetings and agendas. We appreciate the professionalism and respect you have demonstrated to the public, to other elected officials, and to the media since you took the helm.
The following points represent issues we have previously discussed:
We remain concerned about the County’s preparedness to meet legacy costs as this budget increases the County’s retirement contribution from 1.75 to 2.00 (200%). Grassroots America has asked the Commissioners Court every year since 2009 to develop a comprehensive long-range business plan for all county operations. Eight long years later, there’s still no plan. We ask that you seek independent sources to resolve the question about the county’s current ability to fund at least 85% of its legacy costs. If this is not the case, we ask you to develop policies that will safeguard any promises made to employees, while assuring taxpayers that the county is not digging a deep financial hole they will be asked to fill later, possibly in the form of additional debt.
We support the Sheriff’s budget requests for overtime pay, team pay, and dispatch certification pay. We have reviewed the Sheriff’s budget with him in detail and found all requests fully justified.
We reaffirm the urgent need to tie funds appropriated for county road, bridge, and drainage infrastructure to an itemized list of projects. Approving a list of projects after the appropriations are made is not the proper way to budget. The current method gives the appearance of just pulling a number out of the air and does not give taxpayers a list of projects that can be completed in a budget year; therefore, the county’s performance in this area of service delivery cannot be measured. The county should not appropriate more funds than can be utilized by County Engineer Frank Davis in a reasonable annual schedule of road reconstruction and upgrades. A schedule of top priority projects should be identified and priced according to those projects programmed for Road & Bridge Department (in-house) completion and those selected for bidding out to contractors. There are several “best practices” counties that Smith County could look to for planning and policy templates that could be readily adapted to make Smith County’s Road and Bridge Budgeting more transparent, performance-based, and accountable. We do not fault County Engineer Frank Davis for this. It is a Commissioners Court issue.
We strongly disapprove of a General Fund Reserve of 29%, when county policy sets the reserve minimum at a minimum of 17%. Ending the current budget year with $26 million in reserves, while raising taxes by setting the tax rate above the effective tax rate does not help build good will. If the Court dedicated the excess reserves to fund future county road and bridge infrastructure projects, we could support such a plan. In the absence of a dedication of the excess reserves to needed Road and Bridge Plan projects, we deem the County Commissioners Court to be overtaxing its citizens.
Thank you for your service, Judge Moran.