In the judge’s mind, the budget process is status quo and Roth is trying to “create an issue.”
“I find it interesting that he would talk to a reporter and not to me,” Riley said.
“[The schedule] is not any different from any other year,” he said. “The bulk of our meetings will be in September. We’ll get them set around the first of September, but the court will set some of them.”
Riley said he knew some of the commissioners would be gone in August, and so avoided scheduling budget sessions.
Another reason to wait is the county has yet to receive information about health insurance costs, a significant expense.
“Then we’ll have everything tied down,” he said.
The county’s low fund balance will be a topic in this year’s budget discussions, Riley said.
Financial advisors have recommended the court triple the county’s low fund balance to $4 million, either by raising the tax rate, employing more conservative budgeting practices or redirecting funds from individual precinct fund balances, the road and bridge fund or the debt service fund.
How to boost that balance — which everyone agrees should increase, he said — will be up to the court.
“I am going to suggest some ideas, but I will keep those for public discussion,” Riley said.
Riley said he did not expect to see commissioners increase the tax rate 1.3 cents each year for two years, as suggested by First Southwest Company.
And, in his opinion, he said more conservative budgeting could not be done. Departments were “cut to the bare bones last year,” he said. This year, none have asked for additional employees “at this point.”
A cover letter posted online for the FY 2011-12 budget states the tax rate for the proposed budget is the “effective tax rate,” the rate that will generate the same amount of revenue for the county as last year on property of comparable value as set by the appraisal district.
The letter states the new budget will raise $1.3 million more property taxes than last year, with $348,000 of them coming from new properties added to the tax roll.
Staying within the effective tax rate means only one public hearing on the budget will be required, Roth said, though special budget agendas will be posted in the coming weeks, according to Kertok.
The number of agendas, Riley said, will be determined by the court.
“It could be a few or multiple,” he said. “Historically it’s four or five.”