Somervell County Auditor Brian Watts wasn’t expecting to win any popularity awards Monday morning at the county commissioners’ first budget workshop for the upcoming fiscal year.

Watts told commissioners that he is recommending that they increase the tax rate by one cent.

“It’s not news anybody wants to deal with,” Watts told the Glen Rose Reporter after the meeting. “Anybody, including myself, would rather maintain the same tax rate, if not go down.”

There was no increase in the effective tax rate last year, when commissioners approved a tax rate of $0.46159 per $100 valuation. The rate proposed by Watts on Monday for the new budget, with a fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 of this year, is $0.471900.

“I wanted them (the commissioners) to have time to digest it and start getting their arms around it,” Watts said. “It is simply my recommendation. You either cut spending or increase revenue. We’ve been fortunate in the past, we’ve been able to do both. We’ve got about $16 million in improvements that are coming on the roll this year.”

Commissioner John Curtis said he was not surprised by the recommendation, but added, “We need to take a hard look at where we can streamline that thing. This is our first view of that budget.”

It’s the most preliminary level of the budget process, which will continue for the next few months before County Judge Danny Chambers submits his final budget. Detail after detail must be sorted out, before the commissioners vote on the budget and the tax rate.

Watts estimated that there may be as many as “eight or 10” budget workshops in all, noting “we will probably hone in on two or three departments at one time.”

Watts said his property tax figures do not include the construction of the new Tractor Supply store in Glen Rose because it opened for business after Jan. 1 of this year.

“I’ve got you in a $13 million budget right now. Obviously, that’s going to go down,” Watts told commissioners. “We’ve got a lot of shaving to do — even with the one percent.”

OTHER FACTORS

Earlier, during the meeting, County Judge Danny Chambers remarked that some unfunded state government mandates are causing budget problems.

“Our boys in Austin are not doing us any favors,” Chambers said.

The county did get a little potential help from the nation’s capital, however. Watts noted that President Trump recently took steps that could help Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant’s short-term future — and potentially maintaining a high value on the local property tax roll. 

Comanche Peak, by far the county’s largest source of property tax money, has struggled in recent years because of a downturn in nuclear power demands, which set off a tug-of-war — and eventually a court settlement — over its tax value. 

Some observers have speculated that the nation’s nuclear power options may continue to shrink as the viability and affordability of other power sources increase. 

The county’s litigation resulted in a four-year agreement with Luminant. This is the final year of that agreement, Watts noted.

“This was a decrease in value that was anticipated,” Watts stated. “Next year it returns to the market rates, so I’m hopeful the market will have an increase. President Trump has instructed the Department of Energy to cease all planned closures, and direct energy companies to purchase from nuclear power plants.”

According to a June 1 online article by The Hill, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “President Trump has directed Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to prepare immediate steps to stop the loss of these resources …”

The Hill quoted from a 41-page Energy Department memo that stated, “Too many of these fuel-secure plants have retired prematurely and many more have recently announced retirement.”

The article also states, “The Energy Department measure would also create a ’Strategic Electric Generation Reserve,’ which would shore up the U.S.’s domestic energy reserves in case of an emergency.’ “

OTHER ACTION

The commissioners voted 5-0 to allow sales of fireworks in unincorporated areas of the county for the July 4 holiday. Fire chief Mark Crawford informed the court that the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI) used to measure wildfire risk is currently about 200, well below what might trigger banning fireworks.

“It needs to be 400,” Crawford said of the risk factor. “I’m comfortable with not opposing this rule. I wouldn’t recommend putting it in place unless it’s necessary.”

The commissioners also voted unanimously to place speed limits signs of 35 mph on County Road 328.