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City, County facing tax hikes

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By LPR Staff
Editor/POST-REGISTER

In the ever-tightening economy, Caldwell County”s taxing entities are feeling the heat as they try to prepare budgets for the 2005-2006 fiscal year. Based on current projections, Lockhart”s three main taxing entities, the City of Lockhart, Caldwell County and the Lockhart ISD are all facing bare-bones, if not deficit budgets,

despite the threat of increased taxes.
“We don”t even have any contingency in our budget,” said Caldwell County Judge H.T. Wright during a Commissioners” Court meeting on Monday. “We”ve cut just about everything out of it we can.”
The City of Lockhart is in a similar position. Primary figures presented to the city council on Tuesday night predict a nearly $300,00 budget shortfall, due in some part to the tax freeze for the elderly and disabled that Lockhart voters approved last year.
“That”s a huge amount of money for a small city,” said city manager Clovia English. However, as the council begins budget workshops and public hearings, the council has pledged to confirm the preliminary figures and do everything possible to protect both city employees and Lockhart”s taxpayers.
Meanwhile, LISD financial officer Tina Knudsen suggested as the LISD Board of Trustees began budget talks that the school district would face a deficit budget this year. Although there are some reserve funds in the district”s coffers, Knudsen stated that the district cannot afford more than one year of a deficit budget.
Beginning next week, the three entities will be discussing and voting on proposed tax rates. Public hearings on tax increases will begin the final week of August, and run through mid-September.
Based on the primary figures, neither the city or the county will be able to extend pay increases to their employees this year. If they can increase pay, the raises will likely not amount to more than a small cost-of-living increase, despite across-the-board belt-tightening.
During budget talks with each entity, Caldwell County Interim Chief Appraiser Pete Islas presented the budget for the Caldwell County Appraisal District. Based on last year”s tax levies, Lockhart taxpayers will carry the lion”s share of the CCAD budget burden, over 82 percent of the $959,000 budget.
Each Caldwell County taxing entity carries a portion of the burden for the CCAD”s budget, based upon levied taxes. Last year, Lockhart ISD levied 44 percent of the county”s tax base, while Caldwell County levied 29.1 percent and the City of Lockhart, 9.1 percent. As a consequence, the three entities are allocated a total of more than $790,000 of the organization”s budget.
This is an increase of nearly $125,000 over last year”s CCAD budget. Islas said the increase is due mostly to the CCAD”s separation from LISD last fall. Still, some of the proposed budget increases are raising red flags with the taxing entities.
“You want us to give your employees a 4-percent raise when we can”t give our employees anything?” Wright asked earlier this month. “I have some pretty serious concerns about that.”
Lockhart mayor James Bertram mimicked Wright”s concern on Tuesday evening. Council members and commissioners also questioned Islas”s request for a $35,000 reserve for a building fund, suggesting that some option should be available besides holding taxpayer money in trust.
At this early stage of the budget game, there is a wealth of information, but few real answers. As tax rates are decided, the picture will become more clear. In all likelihood, though, Caldwell County taxpayers are facing possibly significant tax increases this year.

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