By Devin Corbitt, The Belton Journal
The Aug. 24 meeting of the Bell County Commissioners Court ran atypically long in order to fully present the upcoming year’s budget. County Judge Jon Burrows began the presentation with the county’s mission statement before recounting the achievements of both the county and its employees over the last few decades.
Bell County grew by 24.5 percent from 1990 to 2000, beating out the state’s growth rate. However, the county grew even more during the next decade, jumping by 30.4 percent to 237,974 residents, compared to the nation’s 9.7 percent growth from 2000 to 2010. The Texas Department of State Health Services estimates the county’s population at just over 350,000 for 2015, displaying yet another large increase.
Luckily, the business sector of the county has grown alongside the population. Several major economic indicators exist within the county or will open in the near future, including Panda Energy in Temple, a $365 million facility; River Springs at Barge Ranch in Belton, a $10.43 million, 232 unit apartment complex; and, of course, Fort Hood in Killeen, which has added $850 million in current and recently completed projects.
As far as county taxes are concerned, taxable assessed property values total approximately $16 billion for 2016, a 5.04 percent increase from 2014. Of that money, $1.4 million is exempt due to the over 65/disabled frozen taxes, and $2.6 million is exempt for 100 percent disabled veterans (although the state will reimburse about $1.2 million of that money).
Due to the increase in assessed property values, the commissioners opted to maintain the current tax rate of 45.11 cents for every hundred dollars. Of this rate, 2.99 cents will go toward the road district, 32.56 cents will go toward maintenance and operations (M&O) and 9.56 cents will go toward debt service. This rate will generate about $14.25 million in revenue.
The county also received just under $17 million in sales taxes in 2014, and the economic trend indicates a 5.17 percent increase for 2015, which will be added to the 2016 budget.
These revenues, along with state and federal funding, helped the county create a $87.55 million budget for the general fund. The county expects about $83 million in revenues, so they will get the remaining money from the fund balance. The fund balance serves as a rainy day savings account.
Of that $87.55 million, 61.5 percent is reserved for personnel costs, totaling $53.8 million. This amount has increased significantly from this year’s budget for two main reasons. The first is the addition of 19 new positions within the county, including a clerk for human resources and correctional officers for the jail. This generates a $714,582 increase in expenditures. The second personnel increase comes in the form of a 3 percent raise for county officials and employees at a cost of $1.1 million.
The remaining 38.5 percent of the budget is reserved for operating expenses. These include equipment and building maintenance, jail operations and technology services.
The budget also allows for the construction of a Bell County Communications Center for 911 calls. In the proposed plan, Bell County will shoulder 50 percent of the cost, with Belton, Harker Heights, Kileen and Temple splitting the remaining 50 percent depending on usage. The center will come at a cost of $706,066 to the county.
In other county news, the commissioners court meeting began with an interlocal agreement between the county and Rogers ISD. The county agreed to prime and seal the district’s bus parking lot at a cost of $1,437.80 to the county.
The commissioners also approved a final plat for the Roush Addition, a 2-lot, 10.096-acre tract of land in Temple’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).
In accordance with House Bill 786, the commissioners unanimously approved an addition to the handbook allowing mothers to breastfeed in the workplace.
A 2 percent hotel occupancy tax was approved during the meeting thanks to efforts by Senator Troy Fraser to have the tax approved by the Texas legislature and despite a lack of support from Representative Molly White. The tax, which will add $2 to a $100 hotel bill, will allow the county to meet critical needs at the Bell County Expo Center. It will go into effect Oct. 1.
The commissioners then approved upgrades to the 911 center’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment at a cost of $319,096. They also approved the asbestos abatement and demolition of the Old County Jail and Juvenile Building. The demolition was approved by the Belton Historic Preservation Commission last month and will cost the county $380,000.
The second of four renewal options was approved for Lavone Richey and Douglas David for pit run gravel, and the county accepted two Peace Keeper Armored Trucks from the Texas department of Public Safety (TDPS). The trucks come at no cost to the county. One truck will be maintained for emergency situations, while the other will be used for part replacement.
The court conducted a public hearing for a plan to preserve and restore district court records prior to 1951. After hearing no comments, the plan was unanimously approved.
The commissioners will reconvene Aug. 31 at 9 a.m. in the Bell County Courthouse in Belton. The 2016 budget and tax rate will be adopted at that time.