Appraisal district directors trim $60K from budget
By LPR Staff
In response to very public criticism from most of Caldwell County”s taxing entities, the Caldwell Count Appraisal District (CCAD) board of directors opted to trim more than $60,000 from their budget on Tuesday evening.
Several area officials, including County Judge H.T. Wright, County Commissioner Tom Bonn and Lockhart m
ayor James Bertram were on hand, along with several representatives from Luling and the Luling ISD, for a public hearing regarding the budget, and many had harsh words for the board.
“It”s difficult for us to absorb [this] kind of increase in one year,” said James Nichols from the Luling ISD. “It”s difficult for any entity to do that.”
“I think this budget is way overstated,” Wright said. The CCAD budget increased from 835,000 last year to $959,000 this year. Officials, including Interim Chief Appraiser Pete Islas said that the CCAD”s separation from Lockhart ISD earlier this year was to blame for the increases.
However, the taxing entities expressed concerns about several areas of the budget, including a $35,000 “building fund,” and several other “contingency” accounts.
“If you”re going to buy a building, buy a building,” he said. “You shouldn”t just hold taxpayer money in reserve just in case.”
Most in attendance at the hearing agreed with Wright”s assessment.
“I don”t see why this building has suddenly become inadequate,” Bonn said. “Everyone has growing pains, but you deal with that. You can”t just break camp – you have to be responsible to the taxpayers.”
During the regular meeting, board chair Rudy Ruiz made a motion to remove the building fund from the budget, initiating the first of many cuts requested by the public and the taxing entities.
The second bone of contention for many taxing entities was the CCAD”s desire to give a four-percent pay raise, including a merit-pay schedule to their employees. The taxing entities are considering a maximum of two percent in cost-of-living adjustments, if that.
“We don”t know if we”re going to be able to give our people anything,” Bertram said. “And we don”t feel right about telling you to go ahead and give these folks four percent if we can”t give our people anything.”
Directors Hye Brown and Frank Hinds, who were both staunchly against the merit pay schedule from the start, suggested that the board structure pay raises in concert with any raise the county decides upon.
In the past, some appraisal district employees have received a vehicle allowance of $100 per month. Islas claimed the allowance was to compensate for “excessive mileage,” and “wear and tear above normal wear and tear,” as a product of the appraisers traveling county roads to appraise property. The allowance, which is paid in addition to a stipend of $0.40 per mile, was set to be increased to $150 next year.
During several presentations of the budget, the actual increase to the allowance was not identified, but upon questioning from the board, the confusion became clear. In previous presentations, taxing entities had developed the impression that the vehicle allowance would remain $100 per month.
Three of the four directors agreed immediately with public concern over the vehicle allowance.
“I don”t see any need to pay more than the $0.41 the IRS allows,” said director Hye Brown. Frank Hinds and Homer Williams agreed wholeheartedly, stating that “employees knew what the job was going to be when they took it.”
The proposed allowance was removed from the budget, decreasing it by another $9,000.
Finally, the board passed the budget, almost as a matter of obligation.
“The devil is in the details,” Brown said. “I”d like to have more time to go over it, but if we”re up against a wall…”
Attorneys had advised the board that CCAD must submit a budget for approval by Sept. 15.
Most of the directors expect the taxing entities to make more changes before they approve the budget. If at least half of the entities do not approve the budget, it must be revised and resubmitted.
Hinds stood alone against passing the budget in its current state.
“I can”t support this budget,” he said. “Not one taxing entity is pleased with it. I think we have a responsibility to take their comments into consideration.”