By MARY RAINWATER
The Anderson County Commissioners Court approved the 2014 budget and supporting tax rate on Monday, giving a 2 percent pay raise to all county employees (including commissioners, the county judge and elected officials) while maintaining similar budget figures.
The budget, totaling $19,746,773 includes a general fund budget of $18,021,017, a Farm-to-Market/Flood Control (FMFC) budget of $659,818 and a debt service budget of $1,065,938.
In order to maintain those figures, the court adopted the effective tax rate (the rate needed to bring the same amount of income as the previous year) of .52550 per $100 of valuation.
That rate, slightly higher than last year’s rate of .521 cents, would increase taxes on a home valued at $78,000 only about $7, Anderson County Tax Assessor-Collector Teri Garvey said at an Aug. 12 meeting.
Last year’s budget of $19,605,614 included a general fund budget of $17,757,051, an FMFC budget of $783,177 and a debt service budget of $1,065,386.
According to County Auditor Karin Smith, the 2014 debt service budget increased $600,000, which was remedied by a shift of funds to that budget. A decrease in property values caused the $123,359 drop of the FMFC budget.
Last year’s general fund budget included a 3 percent raise for all county employees.
Three people, all county employees, voiced their concerns about the budget and related issues, particularly about expected rising health insurance costs, during a required public hearing.
According to Smith, projected insurance increases — primarily increases to dependent coverage — have yet to be finalized by the court and were not included in the budget
The court was encouraged to “look closely” at the changes being made to medical insurance, citing one rumored proposal that charges $50 per month per individual employee and increases at intervals up to $550 for a spouse and family.
Smith reported that the county currently deducts flat $90 a month for dependents, no matter how many.
“That will be hard for some of our employees, especially single mothers,” one employee stated. “They can’t afford to take a hit that big to their checks.
“Lots of people aren’t going to have any other option but to look at taking another job or taking a second or third one,” he continued. “It would be devastating to some of these families.”
It was pointed out that the 2 percent raise approved by the court would not cover the additional costs of insurance for employees.
“I implore you to search all of your options.”
Calling himself the “senior commissioner,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Rashad Mims I said he felt the need to address the health insurance issue with those attending Monday’s meeting.
“In putting together the 2014 budget, we held numerous meetings, budget trainings and workshops,” Mims said. “And at all of them, health care was a major problem.
“But the problem existed before I even got here, as previous courts never wanted to do anything.”
As a self-insured entity, Mims explained, Anderson County puts a specified amount of money into a fund to cover insurance claims by county employees, and in spite of warnings that the county needed to increase its per-employee premiums, past courts had made no moves to do so.
“Now, we are just breaking even,” he said. “We have fought to keep things down, and are still lower than Wal-mart warehouse (Walmart Distribution Center) and the prison (Texas Department of Criminal Justice).
“We had to make a decision and we chose not to raise taxes in Anderson County.”
County Judge Robert Johnston agreed with Mims, telling the Herald-Press that the court had to decide whether the employee pays for insurance or the taxpayers.
“We did not think it was the right thing to do for the taxpayers to pay for the rising costs of health care for employees,” Johnston said. “Those costs are rising at a rapid rate. We are doing everything we cant to keep the costs as low as we can.”
Johnston again reminds the public and employees that the final insurance rates, effective in January of 2014, have not yet been approved by commissioners. The court has to finalize those numbers by Oct. 1.
Johnston and Smith also reported that Anderson County’s State District Judges and the Anderson County Court At-Law Judge were issued state-mandated raises in 2014.
“The state will give us a little extra revenue to help offset that,” Smith said. “But it doesn’t cover everything — it is an unfunded mandate.”
Also on Monday, the court:
• APPROVED minutes of previous meetings, reports from county officials, budget amendments and bills.
• APPROVED a contract with Gulf Coast Center of New Waverly regarding long-term placement of juveniles as presented by Emily Lane, Chief Juvenile Probation Officer.
• APPROVED a short-term contract with Smith County Juvenile Detention Center.
• APPROVED election judges and central counting station judges for the 2013-14 August term.
• APPROVED establishing a new polling place for Commissioner Precinct 2 — Voting Box 6, moving it from the Masonic Lodge to New Fellowship Christian Church, 1500 W. Reagan St.
• APPROVED sponsorship of Montalba Water Supply Corporation for a 2015-16 Texas Community Development Block grant application for submission to the Office of Rural Affairs within the Texas Department of Agriculture.
• APPROVED GrantWorks, Inc. to prepare and submit the 2015-16 Texas Community Development Block Grant program application for Anderson County on behalf of Montalba Water Supply Corporation for water system improvements.
• APPROVED contracts with East Texas Council of Governments for continued 911 service for FY 2014-15.
• APPROVED contracts with East Texas Council of Governments for continued ALI, Automatic Location Information, for FY 2014-15.
• APPROVED the County Choice Silver Medicare supplement plan renewal for 2014. No changes in the plan or costs occurred.
• APPROVED a list of vehicles and equipment as surplus to sell at auction.
• TABLED District Judges’ Order setting salaries for County Auditor’s office and court reporters and order that they be paid.
• TABLED action on a contract with LGS.
• TABLED accepting the State Automated Victims Notification System Renewal Grant for FY2014.
Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com