Considering where the Somervell County Commissioners were starting from last year at this time, the preliminary budget presentation for the 2018 fiscal year seemed relatively stress-free.
There may have even been a few faint smiles of relief in the room.
Last year, commissioners were having to deal with the dispute over the tax value of the Comanche Peak Nuclear Plant. That collectively caused all of Somervell County’s taxing entities severe migraine headaches until the issue was resolved — but not before legal action began.
In response to a lawsuit filed by its parent compnay Luminant, Somervell's four taxing entities — the Glen Rose Medical Center Hospital District, the Somervell County Water District, the Glen Rose Independent School District and the county — filed a counter suit.
Eventually, Luminant agreed to make two payments to the county last October totaling $7,278,092.08.
Somervell County’s Appraisal Review Board had assessed the nuclear plant’s tax value for 2016 at $1.868 billion.
County auditor Brian Watts told the commissioners that the numbers he gave them on a proposed budget worksheet Monday were in their rawest form.
“This budget has not been trimmed,” Watts told commissioners. “It gives us a ‘you are here’ moment. This gives y’all a starting point.”
The preliminary combined appraised value for all taxable property in the county this year is $2,271,238,821. Watts said that a tax hike is not expected.
Watts noted that the initial budget does not include the potential sale of the Somervell County Expo Center. The county is negotiating with a potential buyer, based in Canada.
“The value is up from the previous year,” Watts said. “Hopefully all the protests are being resolved to actually get a certified value. We can have a pretty normal — whatever normal is — budget preparation time.”
After the meeting, Watts again emphasized that this was just the first step in the budgeting process.
“Department officials brought their requests so that all requests are considered,” Watts explained. “Not all requests will be honored."
The commissioners scheduled another budget workshop discussion meeting on July 17, followed by more budget meetings on July 24 and July 28. The final county budget has to be filed by the end of July, according to County Judge Danny Chambers.
The fiscal year for the county is from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.
“It looks very promising, where we sit financially,” Chambers said of the first look at the raw numbers. “The main thing is having the (tax) values known. It looks pretty much in line with last year.”
Watts and Chambers noted that there have been some requests from the last two or three years that had to be rejected. They include issues dealing with aging equipment, but may have a better chance of approval now than before.
As Watts said, department heads have “used a lot of duct tape and baling wire” to get by during the recent tough budget times.
“All of our departments and elected officials have done well making due with what they have to get us where we’re at,” Chambers said.
Before Watts’ presentation, Chambers and the five commissioners had two executive sessions — one of which lasted most of the morning. No public action was taken by the court on either closed-door session.