Galen Scott

gscott@weatherforddemocrat.com

County Judge Mark Riley was ready to approve the final county budget after weeks of grinding sessions during which each commissioner was forced to compromise. But Riley’s motion was not supported and served to air some of this year’s budget sticking points.

Four paid deputy constable positions, longevity pay for county employees and a new employee health clinic were among items Riley wanted cut from the budget. He also supported increasing dependent health insurance premiums for county employees.

He said the changes would amount to about $400,000 in budget savings and decrease the county tax rate by about three-quarters of one percent.

“All I’m after is, reducing the tax rate a little bit,” Riley offered. “I understand everybody’s feelings and I’m not going to sit here and argue about it. I just think it’s the right thing to do for the taxpayer.”

Precinct 3 Commissioner John Roth provided the final motion, which passed without any specific budget cuts. Precinct 2 Commissioner Joe Brinkley seconded Roth’s budget motion and moved to approve the new tax rate. Brinkley’s motion was seconded by Roth and the tax rate did not change.

Riley said the court absolutely did not cut anything from the budget and he felt like that was wrong.

“We’ve gone from the extreme some years ago where we didn’t have enough money to buy a pencil, and now it’s like, oh well, the door to the candy store is open,” Riley said.

Chief Appraiser Larry Hammonds confirmed this year’s taxable value for Parker County was $6,487,079,997, which represents an increase from last year of more than $787 million.

Riley was the lone dissenter, voting against both the tax rate and the budget driving it. Both the budget and tax rate were officially adopted during a special meeting Friday.

Roth admitted he didn’t agree with everything that was in the budget but said no one agreed with it 100 percent.

“But we’ve already gone through each of these items, and that budget passed item for item,” he said. “Now to come back and vote against it as a whole is ridiculous. That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Riley said the court didn’t vote on every single budget item and feels his vote was valid.

“I think it’s a very valid vote and to suggest that anybody doesn’t have the right to vote against what is a legally required vote ... is just somebody’s lack of understanding about our responsibility,” Riley said.

A proposed employee health clinic, an idea Roth strongly supports, remains a bone of contention among commissioners. Riley said he was in probate court when the health clinic was approved in a 3 -1 vote weeks ago. Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny Choate voted against the measure.

The health clinic would be staffed with a physician, or physician’s assistant, a nurse practitioner and a medical assistant. County employees would have the option of going to a family practitioner, or visiting the county clinic. Roth said there would be no copay, in most cases there would be no deductible, and in some cases, antibiotics would be free.

“We can keep going the way we’re going, and if we did what [Riley] wanted to do, we’d be raising deductibles and copays,” Roth said. “That’s just like saying, ‘Okay, we’re short on our budget, let’s just raise taxes.”

Choate said Friday that Riley has been on a mission to get county employees to pick up a bigger share of dependent health care coverage.

“[Riley] may back off on the clinic issue, if it turns out it’s going to work out for us,” Choate said. “If it does, it’ll be a great thing, if it doesn’t, it’ll be a tremendously bad thing.”

Commissioners allocated $75,000 to the health clinic in next year’s budget. If more money is needed for the project, another vote on the issue could take place, but such a vote is unlikely, given the project’s budget was already bumped up from $60,000.

Riley noted that any commissioner can bring an item up for vote anytime.

“I know the three commissioners and the treasurer are telling everybody it’s a done deal,” Riley said. “My thought is, when the taxpayers realize that we are, in essence, implementing socialized medicine in the courthouse, they may have some different thoughts to extend forth about how their tax dollars are being spent.”

This year’s budget also included $180,000 to fund four newly-created deputy constable positions for Parker County. Volunteers are handling the duties now.

Commissioners also approved an emergency $200,000 for the inmate housing fund. Costs exceeded last year’s budget of $1,442,000.

“Anytime you spend money beyond what is budgeted, you have to declare an emergency,” Choate explained.

Choate suggested that in comparison with other, less pleasant sessions, this fall, things went pretty well.

“We kept the tax rate in check,” he said. “I was happy with the way we handled it.”

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