Though the tax rate remains unchanged, Lamar County residents may notice an increase in taxes after the appraisal district reported an increase in property values.
In keeping the same tax rate as the previous year, Lamar County Commissioners have proposed a new tax rate for the 2019-20 fiscal year of 0.3940 per $100 valuation, an increase more than the calculated effective rate of .3750.
Lamar County Auditor Kayla Hall said several factors, including state mandates the county has no control over, an increasing need for funds to repair county roads and a desire to pay off some of the county’s outstanding debt to save on interest expense has led Lamar County Commissioners’ Court to propose to keep the tax rate at the current rate.
Because the tax rate is proposed to stay unchanged, the amount of taxes citizens will pay could increase due to property values’ increase.
“Each year, Lamar County is given the current property tax rolls by the appraisal district, a separate entity,” Hall said. “The total values from the tax rolls are then used to calculate the ‘effective rate.’ This rate takes into consideration the new values of all property that was on the tax rolls for the prior year.”
Hall said the taxpayer could possibly “pay more, less or the same amount of taxes as they did in the prior year under the effective rate,” depending on the property values change. However, under the effective rate, the “increase in tax revenue for the county from one year to the next is minimal.
“During budget preparation, the Commissioners’ Court must propose a tax rate that it will choose not to exceed for the upcoming budget,” Hall said. “At the final public hearing for the budget, the Court may decide to adopt the rate they proposed or any rate between that rate and the effective rate.“
Lamar County Pct. 3 Commissioner Ronnie Bass said it’s a challenge for the county to continue performing its duties properly while expenses continue to climb.
“That is one of the things that challenges us – funds,” Bass said. “Road materials aren’t cheap, equipment isn’t cheap.”
Bass said these materials come out of the road and bridge fund, and prices continue to increase.
“We have gravel, and we have oil roads,” Bass said. “When you put oil out, it’s double or triple (more costly) than gravel.”
Bass said when roads have been oiled, they can’t just grind them down and turn them into gravel.
“That expense, where oil used to be about $3,800 a load years ago, now it’s about $15,000,” Bass said. “The challenge is there, and we’re trying to do some corrections to help road and bridge’s financials.”
Hall said if the effective rate were adopted, each precinct will receive only $4,500 more into the road and bridge fund than 2018-19 fiscal year’s budget. However, if the proposed rate of .3940 were adopted, each precinct, overall, would receive more than $35,000 more than the 2018-19 fiscal year.
Bass said the commissioners typically propose a higher rate “in case we have something unexpected come up when we’re digging in the budget.
When we finalize,” Bass said, “most of the time it comes down instead of staying up. This is just a proposed rate, it’s not what we have selected so far.”
Bass said the county is “looking to pay off about $2 million in debt.
“If we can get that $2 million in debt paid off, that saves us $500,000 over a four-year period just in interest,” Bass said. “We’ll save about $125-130,000 a year just in interest just by paying that debt off.”
He said once the debt is paid off, this would allow them to have money in the future, instead of it going toward the debt. The county is considering the use of “some general fund money to eliminate some of that debt.
“It’s a difficult battle, and we want to be conservative with the tax dollar, but we still have to function,” Bass said. “We’re doing the best we can, but if people want good roads to drive on, we need money to fix them.”
Bass said the commissioners understand “budgets are tight everywhere – even home budgets are tight.
“Those county roads are our responsibilities, and we have to be able to fix them,” Bass said. “But with the rain we had for a straight year, we couldn’t do some of our projects.”
Given the county adopts the effective rate, the only additional tax revenue received by the county over the prior-year amount is based around new property added to the tax rolls. If the county chooses to adopt the proposed rate of .3940, a taxpayer with a $100,000 property would pay $19 more in taxes for the year than at the effective rate.
“We’re doing the best we can for the people, and we’re going to continue to work hard for them,” Bass said.
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