- Real Estate
- Paris Flash
Lamar County property owners are likely to see a slight drop in the tax rate next year. How much remains to be seen.
Lamar County commissioners Monday approved a proposed property tax rate of 43.78 cents per $100 of property valuation. That’s .09 cents lower than the current rate, although the final may be even lower.
“This is only a proposed rate,” County Judge Chuck Superville said. “We are hip deep in it right now. It looks pretty good. I don’t anticipate we will need a tax increase.”
The current tax rate is 43.87 cents. Lamar County’s tax roll increased about $111 million to $2.8 billion. Of that, $24 million is new property. That leads to an effective rate of 42.51 cents.
“When your tax base is going up, your effective rate is going down,” Superville said. “What tax rate do you need to get the same money as last year – not including new property – that’s called the effective tax rate.”
At about $13.02 million, the county’s revenue is looking much better than this time last year, Superville said. He’s projecting an increase in sales tax of about $100,000. Even at the effective rate, new property would bring in $71,595.
“These are preliminary numbers,” he said. “They’re not set in stone. But I think it’s a pretty good indicator of where we’re going.”
Initial expenditures come to about $13.67 million, based on department heads’ requests, a flat payscale and savings of at least $188,750 from the new health insurance contract. That results in a shortfall of $240,868, which Superville said is manageable – but there are several requests still not in the budget, such as $100,000 for longevity pay and retirement, new personnel in the sheriff’s department, a $13,000 for a metal storage building for the sheriff, $27,000 to equip four new patrol cars, an anticipated $10,000 increase in the ambulance contract and $6,600 more for the volunteer fire departments.
The biggest question is what the county will do regarding insurance. The $188,750 predicted for savings is if coverage stays the same at 65 percent coverage for dependents. Superville said the county should follow the example of most other employers and put the full cost for dependent coverage on the employees. That would save the county about $713,000.
“We can do nothing, and we’d be OK. We’re not in the same crisis we were in last year,” he said. “We’ve been presented with an opportunity. It’s easier to fix a problem when you have some money to fix it than when you’re back’s against a wall.”
At least a portion of any savings should go back as a pay increase for employees, he said. That would be an equal distribution, whereas the subsidy for dependent coverage only benefits a portion of the work force. At the very least, he said, the county should reduce its portion to 50 percent.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Lonnie Layton said he did not see any point in reducing the coverage now. Moving the savings to payroll would likely mean paying more than the county saved once retirement and other required add-ons were figured in.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Lawrence Malone said it would be better to keep the coverage the way it is now.
“I can’t see us having dependent coverage next year,” Malone said. “I’m not for taking dependent insurance away from anyone, but I think eventually, we’re going to have to bite this bullet.”
Layton said the county has wasted money with consultant Lockton Dunning. Rather than paying that company $40,000 a year, Lamar County could have stayed with an insurance agent, he said.
The new contract that is saving money on insurance is with the Texas Association of Counties, which was the low bid four years ago, Layton said, but the consultant recommended staying with United Healthcare because switching would cost too much. In the last eight years, TAC’s insurance costs have gone up 3 percent where United Healthcare’s increase last year was 25 percent.
Overall, Lockton has saved the county money, Superville said. An agent represents the insurance companies while the consultant represents the county, he said.
“That would be like going to a Toyota dealership and saying, ‘What kind of car do you think I need?’” he said.
County Treasurer Shirley Fults said a bigger issue than dependent coverage is what doctors and specialists employees will be able to see under BlueCross BlueShield
Commissioners delayed action on the salary order for elected officials since Precinct 3 Commissioner Rodney Pollard and Precinct 4 Commissioner Keith Mitchell were absent from Monday’s session. Superville said the order will have to be done in time to allow elected officials to review it before it’s adopted.
By Jeff Parish, eParisExtra