Commissioners rescind, set new 2021-22 tax rate

Jay Hinton
Glen Rose Reporter

GLEN ROSE — The Somervell County Commissioners Court voted unanimously in its meeting Monday to rescind its previous adopted 2021-22 tax rate, approve a new tax rate, and approve the 2021-22 budget.

In a letter addressed to Judge Danny Chambers dated Sept. 27, former Somervell County Auditor Brian Watts indicated the passing of the tax rate on Sept. 23 was a violation of Local Government Code because a notice for a public meeting wasn’t placed in the newspaper 10 days prior to the meeting.

“My examination of the county’s newspaper of record shows no such published hearing notice,” Watts wrote. “I submit your actions on the 23rd of September fail to meet these and possibly other requirements and specifications of the Local Government Code, and therefore, Somervell County does not have an adopted budget for fiscal year 2021-2022.”

Chambers agreed and owned up to the error in his procedural oversight.

County Judge Danny Chambers

“That’s where I take full responsibility for screwing up,” said Chambers, while noting new procedures are being put in place so it doesn’t happen again. “I did not do it. I did not do it on purpose. I just didn’t do it.”

Chambers said the notice of public hearing wasn’t placed on the county’s website either, which is also a violation of Local Government Code. Chambers did say the document showing the proposed tax rate, however, was on the county’s website at least 72 hours prior to the Sept. 23 meeting.

Under Local Government Code, Chambers could face — if a district court so chooses — a misdemeanor charge punishable by fine of “not less than $100 or more than $1,000, confinement in the county jail for not less than one month or more than one year, or both fine and confinement.”

After becoming aware of the issue in Watts’ letter, Chambers immediately began conversations with county attorneys to see what could be done prior to the Monday, Oct. 4 meeting, to rectify the error.

A public notice for Monday’s public hearing ran in the Friday, Oct. 1 edition of the Glen Rose Reporter. Even though it was inside the 10-day window, Chambers said he acted in good faith as quickly as possible in the timeframe he had under the direction of county attorneys.

On Monday, county commissioners voted 5-0 to rescind their Sept. 23 vote of the tax rate of .5125, which is under the voter-approved tax rate of .5176, and voted 5-0 to set the new rate of .4979, which is the no-new-revenue rate established by the Somervell County Appraisal District for 2021-22.

The 2021-22 tax rate will generate less revenue than the 2020-21 tax rate by $51,128, and will reduce taxes for maintenance and operations on a $100,000 home by approximately $1.59.

Although the county has a cash balance of around $17 million, Chambers wasn’t comfortable lowering the tax rate further just yet. He said the county wants to have at least $24 million in reserves in case it is hit with a similar situation it faced in 2015-16.

Chambers said that year the power plant didn’t pay its taxes, and the county dipped into its reserves to meet payroll and maintain services, and it was three months away from being totally broke.

Had it reached that point, Chambers said, for the county to continue providing services residents are accustomed to like library, parks, police and fire, the Somervell County Expo, Squaw Valley Golf Course and making payroll, he would have had to request a loan from the state, which would have had to be repaid in a year.

He is confident that having two years in reserves would be sufficient if the county is faced with a similar situation in the future.

Watts also filed a lawsuit against Somervell County and Chambers in the 18th Judicial District on Sept. 29, seeking “a judicial determination declaring that County failed to follow all or part of the required necessary steps to set a 2021 ad valorem tax rate and the proceedings held by the County of Sept. 23, 2021 to set the 2021 ad valorem tax rate are unenforceable because it conflicts with the Texas Constitution and/or the Local Government and Texas Tax Codes.”

In addition, the lawsuit states Watt requested “a temporary restraining order immediately directing Defendant, Defendant’s officials, officers, agents, servants, employees, successors and assigns, and attorneys from directly or indirectly seeking collections or issuance of 2021 ad valorem property taxes or until Defendant can demonstrate to this Court it has complied with the computation, publication and posting requirements governing the setting of tax rates in the Texas Tax Code and the Texas Local Government Code.”

The case was still in district court without a ruling as of press time.