Care for poor brings pro­posed tax rate hike

$127 mil­lion county bud­get plan leaves out some other re­quests

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Claire Osborn AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN STAFF

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.

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