PAYMORE NEXT YEAR?
Proposal would increase bill for average-value home about 4.5 percent and not cut services
Travis County’s preliminary 2011 budget raises property taxes but doesn’t cut services
Many Travis County tax bills would rise next year, but there would be no cuts to services under the county’s preliminary 2011 budget pre- sented to commissioners Tuesday.
The county’s property values fell, but the proposed tax rate would rise 4.43 cents, which would increase the tax bill for the average-valued home ($218,542 after a homestead exemption) by $47.74, or about 4.5 percent, budget director Leroy Nellis said.
The property tax rate would rise to 46.58 cents per $100 of valuation from this year’s tax rate of 42.15 cents per $100 of valuation.
Commissioners are expected to adopt the tax rate and the 2011 budget on Sept. 28. The 2011 budget year begins Oct. 1.
Property tax revenue would increase to $348.9 million, compared with $333.2 million this year, in part to make up for declining taxes from new construction and a drop in investment earnings.
New construction increases the amount of the county’s property tax revenue, but such construction is down about $1 billion from the current year.
The county’s average home value, after a homestead exemption, for this year was $230,186. Applying this year’s tax rate, the average county tax bill was about $970. (The new average home value and the tax rate are expected to change based on certified appraisals from the Travis Central Appraisal District.)
Applying the 46.58-cent tax rate, the average county tax bill would be about $1,018, a $48 increase.
Travis County property taxes represent about 17 percent of the total property tax bill for homeowners in the county, Nellis said.
The $698.6 million preliminary budget is about $43.5 million more than this year’s budget — a 6.6 percent increase.
The general fund — the county’s operating budget — would increase to $487.5 million from $455.7 million this year.
Expenses are projected to grow to $487.5 million, from $455.7 million this year, because of increased health insurance costs and retirement benefits for county employees, and possibly higher utilities and fuel costs, among other increases in operating expenses, Nellis said.
The preliminary budget also contains reserves of $85.5 million, including money that commissioners set aside in anticipation of the economic slowdown, which will be carried over from the current budget year.
Budget officials recommend that the county maintain its unallocated reserve at 11 percent of the general fund, a rate the county has maintained since 1995, Nellis said.
He said the preliminary budget seeks to avoid layoffs and sustain existing programs in anticipation of what is expected to be equally challenging 2012 and possibly 2013 budget years.
In an April 21 letter to commissioners, Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton wrote that he is “becoming increasingly concerned that future cuts and the ensuing reduction in services levels for both our law enforcement and corrections duties will ultimately have consequences that will have a direct impact on the safety and well-being of our citizens.”
The sheriff’s office has the largest budget among county departments and makes up nearly a third of the county’s departmental budgets, Nellis said. There would be no layoffs of Travis County staffers under the preliminary budget, which includes a 2.5 percent salary increase for employees and elected officials not on the judiciary pay scale to help offset higher health insurance costs.
Commissioners this month approved the 2.5 percent pay increase as part of the preliminary budget. The raise would cost about $6.7 million.
Officials say the raises will help offset what employees pay in increased health insurance costs. There was an 8 percent, or $4.4 million, increase in health insurance costs for county employees, according to Nellis.
One vacant clerk position deemed unnecessary in the Precinct 3 constable office was eliminated in the preliminary budget, Nellis said.
The budget also includes positions and programs that commissioners approved previously, such as legal staffers to work on county land use issues in the county attorney’s office and a program to address chronic absenteeism in public schools.
Travis County property taxes represent about 17 percent of the total property tax bill for homeowners in the county, according to budget director Leroy Nellis.