County adopts budget, sets tax rate

COLDSPRING – San Jacinto County Commissioners Court unanimously adopted a tax rate that decreases the 2014 county tax revenue by 0.85 percent from last year's revenue.

The new budget contains no salary increases, two new county positions and budget cuts for the county's justices of the peace as well as most other departments.

San Jacinto County Judge Fritz Faulkner told the court that $279,334 will be taken out of the county's fund balance to fund the new budget without raising the tax rate.

Faulkner said a decrease in the county's property tax value due to a decrease in mineral values and some mandated computer software from the Supreme Court is the cause of the county's financial condition.

The tax rate will remain at $0.6480, just slightly less than the county's effective rate, he said.
"Since filing the budget we've now trimmed the budget to $257,000 and we may find some more to trim off," he said.

Since starting the budget process over $1 million has been trimmed back by cutting all department requests and salary increases for employees, according to Faulkner.

Due to the decrease in property tax values, the county has $75,000 less than last year in revenues, based on an aggressive 97 percent tax rate collection.

"We normally base our revenue on a 92 percent tax rate collection," Faulkner said.

Two new positions were added to the budget, one for the maintenance department and one for a new position for the county's 911 emergency services department.

He explained that the new position will be funded for a county employee and not for an independent agent for that position as rumored by many, giving reference to letters written and signed by "concerned citizens" recently.

Explaining where the county's money is going, Faulkner said, "The Supreme Court has ruled that we have to efile, beginning in January and as a result our software must be upgraded at a cost of about $365,000. We can't go back to Big Chief tablets. It's been mandated and we have to do it."

Faulkner said he originally put in a 3 percent raise for employees."I can't support funding raises by taking the money out of the county's fund balance," he said.

Lengthy discussions were held concerning patrol vehicles for the sheriff's department, expenses in the sanitation department and salary increases for employees.

"Last year we did a 3 percent salary increase. Eight out of the 10 years I've budgeted raises but don't have it this year," Faulkner said.

"Next year we've got to figure out something for our employees," Pct. 2 Commissioner Donny Marrs said.

"Our budget brings in $75,000 less than last year at the same tax rate, and we cut over $1 million from budget requests," Faulkner reminded the court.

While the court held firm on not giving salary increases, the San Jacinto County Sheriff's Department was budgeted three new patrol cars at a cost of about $35,000 each fully equipped. One has already been purchased and another one will come out of the 2013 budget which ends Oct. 1, and another will come out of the 2014 budget.

While on the subject of county vehicles, Faulkner cracked down on employees driving them home.
"Why does everyone in the DA's office drive a county vehicle home?" he asked San Jacinto County Criminal District Attorney Richard Countiss.

"Instead of seizing vehicles and giving them to employees you should sell them and put the money in the budget," Faulkner said.

Countiss explained that he was just following the policy he inherited when he took office.

"It may be a bad policy so I'll take care of it," he told the court. "If it's your desire they'll be gone."
Concerning the county's sanitation department, Faulkner said $311,000 was taken out of the county's fund balance to fund that department, which he and others described as a financial drain on the county.

"We don't have a contingency fund in this budget and we need to keep enough money to cover three months of expenses in the fund balance," Faulkner said. "The only place our money is going to come from is the taxpayers."

When the budget was finally adopted and a tax rate set to provide the revenue it was noted that due to the decrease in property values the average property owner in San Jacinto County will pay a little more in property taxes although the tax rate is basically the same as last year's.

On Board with COCISD

On Monday, August 26, 2013, the Coldspring-Oakhurst CISD Board of Trustees met in a regular session. The following items were presented:

Spotlight on Excellence
Lt. Colonel Bradley Keane presented an overview of recent awards and activities of the Coldspring-Oakhurst High School Air Force JROTC including updates on the recent Summer Leadership School and Military Leadership Academy. Keane reported that in addition to numerous other honors awarded in the 2012-13 school year, they had been selected for the Organizational Excellence Award by Headquarters, Air Force JROTC. "We are coming off the best year we've ever had," said Keane. The annual "pinning ceremony" for officers will be held at the COHS cafeteria during a welcome back reception on Thursday, Aug. 29.

Administrative Reports
COCISD principals reported the following:
• JSE/CIS: Attendance was 100% for James Street Elementary the first day of school, with 100% attendance; Coldspring Intermediate School also had 100% in attendance with 298 students enrolled. Principal Vikki Curry reported an excellent first day of school
• LJH: Attendance – 100% with 342 students enrolled. Principal Kris Johansen reported that LJH also had an awesome first day of school. After a week of professional development, Johansen said teachers were eager and ready for students' return to the classrooms. 6th grade orientation had been well attended and upcoming events include the Trojan Community Forum on Monday, Sept. 9 and Open House is set for Tuesday, Sept. 10 from 6 to 7 p.m.
• COHS: Attendance – 100% with 483 students enrolled. Principal Todd White expressed gratitude for a smooth start to the year, giving credit to the teachers and staff who have worked so hard in preparation for the students' return. "They are fantastic," said White. "They are at the top of their game and ready to go." Upcoming events include the first parent team meeting of the new school year on Sept. 10. Parent team meetings are held on the second Tuesday of every month.

Business Office
Business Manager Adam Jenke introduced members of the Bank of San Jacinto County Board of Directors who presented COHS Business teacher Susan Caldwell with a check for $1,000 to help fund the new Trojan Bank project. As part of the Banking and Financial Services class initiated by Caldwell, students will learn about the operations, sales and management of banking institutions. The students will be applying real-world banking procedures using the Trojan Bank, located inside the high school cafeteria. "The bank will be open during the lunch period so all students, teachers and staff can have daily access to banking services, which will include savings accounts, small loans and making change," said Caldwell. "Savings account customers will receive monthly statements by email, and all customers with outstanding loans will receive weekly reminders – probably face-to-face!"

Assistant Superintendent
Assistant Superintendent Brenda Krchnak reviewed the District's recently released accountability ratings, reporting that every campus received the "Met Standard" rating, comparable to the former "Academically Acceptable" rating. "Congratulations to the principals, teachers and students for that achievement," said Krchnak, adding with a smile, "Now let's get to work on this year!"

New Business
In other business, the Board voted unanimously to approve the following items:
• Final amendments to the 2012-2013 budget;
• Adoption of the 2013-2014 School District Budget;
• An ordinance setting a tax rate for the COCISD for the 2013 tax year;
• To commit fund balance;
• TRS Active Care employer contribution rates;
• Extension of bid awards for the 2013-14 school year for waste management, electrical services, building materials and LP gas;
• Appointment of the county extension agent as an adjunct faculty member for the 2013-2014 school year;
• The designation of Trustee Berlin Bradford as the TASB Delegate Assembly representative with Trustee Minnie Walker as the alternate;
• To authorize the payment of performance-based bonuses to qualifying educators out of Texas TIF Project grant funds;
• Alternative teacher evaluation model for Texas TIF Project participating schools;
• Alternative principal evaluation model for Texas TIF Project participating schools;
• Policy Update 97, affecting local policies: