County adopts $18.3 million budget

Commissioners argue over road and bridge funds

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Austin County commissioners adopted an $18.3 million budget Monday and proposed a tax rate of $0.56423 per $100 of property valuation to fund it.

The tax rate is a 2-cent increase over last year’s rate. Public hearings on the rate have been set for Sept. 3 at 5 p.m. and Sept. 9 at 9 a.m. at the courthouse.

The budget was adopted during Monday’s session of commissioners court following a 90-minute public hearing. Most comments from the public centered around improving roads in the county. One person asked the commissioners to consider changing meeting times to the evenings so people who work during the day could attend the meetings.

Most of the hearing was spent handling last-minute requests from department heads and bickering between commissioners over division of the road and bridge funds. Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Rinn and Precinct 3 Commissioner Randy Reichardt had their annual disagreement over allocation of road and bridge funds. Rinn voted against the budget and the proposed tax rate in protest, saying his precinct deserves a bigger piece of the pie.

“We’ve fought this over and over and over and it’s no use even talking about it. You’ve got more roads and I’ve got more people and I’ve got more people driving the roads,” Reichardt told him.

Rinn argued that when the precincts were made, the populations were equal, meaning the division of the funds should be equal. The county uses a formula that divides the road and bridge budget between the four precincts based on population and miles of roads. Rinn said he felt he had to vote against the budget because the people he represents aren’t getting their fair share.

“It’s kind of dumb that you would vote against the budget for this county because of that,” Reichardt said.

“That’s your opinion,” Rinn replied.

New in the budget is a proposal by Precinct 4 Commissioner Chip Reed for $10,000 for invasive wildlife management. He said other counties successfully offer bounties for wild hog kills, saving millions in damages to crops and property. He wants Austin County to do the same.

The commissioners also approved raises for themselves and all elected officials. The average raise was 4%. County Judge Tim Lapham said this year would be the last opportunity to make significant adjustments to salaries before the tax increase caps set by the state legislature take effect next year. That deadline was used to justify the hiring of additional personnel and upgrading some positions from part-time to full-time in various departments. After the cap is in place, it will be difficult to do without getting voter approval first.

Reichardt became defensive while discussing raises for the commissioners.

“I’m not saying we don’t get paid more than we deserve,” he said. OK, but if nobody wants this job, who’s going to take it? Are you going to have another Reese Turner in here for four years? I think everybody understands what happened when that happened. OK, y’all want somebody in here that’s not going to manage your money and the only reason they want this job is so they have one objective?

“I’m sorry I’m getting on my soapbox again but the people of this county need to understand that. I mean we have a lot of people here who would like to not be happy about the tax rate. Do you want my job; any of you? Do you all want Bobby’s job? Do you all want Mark’s job? I mean do you really want it? Y’all understand what it pays but how many of you want it for what it pays?

“OK, is it worth the money for all the stuff you have to go through and possibly be out of a job every four years. I mean truthfully, unless you’re a retired person, who can take a chance on being out of your job every four years? Who wants to be at the whim of the taxpayers? … This is not an easy job; it’s a wonderful job. It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” he said.

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