Care for poor brings proposed tax rate hike
$127 million county budget plan leaves out some other requests
The increasing cost of indigent health care could cause the property tax rate for Williamson County to rise by three cents, costing the average homeowner $41.27 more per year, according to county officials.
Ashlie Koenig, the county’s budget officer, said problems in the local economy — plus three new hospitals — have increased appli- cations for indigent health care through the county program. As a result, that item in the proposed budget increased $5 million, to a total of $9 million.
Koenig presented the proposed $127 million budget Tuesday to Williamson County commissioners, who will approve a new budget Aug. 31. Last year’s budget was $121 million.
The owner of a home worth $179,749 — the county average — would pay $939.18 in taxes during the 2010-2011 budget year under the proposed budget. This year the average taxable value after exemptions is $183,285, and the tax bill was $897.91.
The proposed tax rate would be 52.25 cents per $100 of property value, up from 48.99 cents. The budget doesn’t include $800,000 that had been sought for increased health care costs for county employees or $12,500 to help fund a new position for an assistant to the county’s victim witness coordinator, requested by District Attorney John Bradley.
Bradley told commissioners that the coordinator needs an assistant to help handle the rising number of domestic violence cases. The county is losing some cases because it does not have enough staff to work with victims, he said.
This year, the county budgeted $4 million for indigent health care and appropriated $3.1 million more this spring. Spending is projected to reach $8 million by the end of this budget year, Sept. 30. To save money, commissioners have already eliminated coverage for people without Social Security cards.
The state requires the county to use some of its general revenue tax levy — up to 8 percent — to provide health care for needy people who qualify for the program. Once that spending level is reached — this year the maximum would have been $11.5 million, Koenig said — the state begins reimbursing the county for additional costs.
Koenig said the proposed budget includes $460,000 in increased funding for courtappointed attorneys. It does not include pay raises for county employees but does include $371,875 in scheduled salary increases for law enforcement.
Two new positions to provide hardware and software support for the county’s new public safety system and one new position to help with Emergency Medical Services billing were added at a cost of $172,000, Koenig said.
Koenig said requests from county departments initially totaled $134 million, but she was able to whittle them down to $127 million. County Judge Dan A. Gattis said Tuesday he was going to “make a very good effort” to make more trims in the budget.