Somervell County Judge Mike Ford presented his new proposed budget Monday afternoon and recommended slightly cutting the county tax rate.

Ford’s proposal is an effective tax rate of 35.11 cents per $100 of property valuation. Last year the effective rate was 35.5 cents.

The county’s taxable property valuation was $3.25 billion, compared with $3.217 million a year ago.

Commissioners will face a balancing act to not raise taxes, to reduce spending and to fund projects and services citizens care about.

“I have a belief that government needs to concentrate on the services that give the greatest return to our local economy,” Ford said. He added that devising a budget that accomplishes that is a “daunting task.”

Commissioners came face to face with that challenge with the court chambers full of supporters who urged the county not to cut the two full-time positions at the Heritage Center. Speaker after speaker voiced support for keeping the Heritage Center fully staffed with paid employees, not volunteers.

Ford proposed a compromise of a part-time employee, but those who use the Heritage Center said it is too valuable to entrust to volunteers and wanted the county to keep Director Betty Gosdin and clerk Rhonda Duffie fully employed.

Meanwhile, the other major issue that came up during the public comment segment of the budget workshop was the Somervell County Fire Department's need of a new ladder truck. The current one is 30 years old and was purchased in refurbished condition. It is unsafe, Fire Chief Mark Crawford told the court. Several firefighters also said they believed the truck was in dangerous operating condition.

The department said it needs a ladder truck because of multi-story hotels and apartments in the area, not to mention the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant. The department in the past also has used the ladder truck for high-water rescues, Crawford noted.

Larry Higgins, owner of Hammond’s Bar-B-Q, and Joe Leising of Holiday Inn Express also spoke on behalf of a new ladder truck.

Ford included the truck in his capital improvement budget. Such a large piece of equipment is made upon order and costs an estimated $1.3 million. The purchase would be financed over multiple years. The amount allotted in next year’s proposed budget is $250,000.

Crawford said the life expectancy of such a truck for a community of our size would be about 23 years.

Many county departments also saw budget cuts in the proposed budget. Please check the Reporter’s Web site for a detailed accounting of Judge Ford’s budget request.

The county must pass a new budget by Sept. 30.