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Navarro, Price question rollback result

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DIANA BUCKLEY
Ellis County Press
WAXAHACHIE - County officials fear voters may make an uninformed choice in the rollback election set for Saturday, March 3 and wind up cutting of their noses to spite their faces.

'I really believe a rollback would be a disaster for our county,' said Treasurer Mark Price.

Price said even with the 26.07 percent increase recently approved by commissioners, Ellis County taxes rank in the bottom 25 percent among Texas counties.

'That's a good position to be in,' he said. 'This is an efficient organization.'

County Auditor Mike Navarro cautioned county taxes represent only a very small percentage of the average homeowner's tax bill.

'The county is about 15 percent,' Navarro said. 'Depending on the district, schools account for 50-60%, cities about 30 percent.'

Both officials said the county government provides the most 'bang for the buck,' providing a wide array of well-managed services for the relatively low tax assessment.

'The rollback will not cut anyone's tax bill in half,' said Navarro. 'People need to know it will affect only a small portion of their overall bill.'

The average homeowner would save $4.35 a month, or $52.20 a year, if the rollback vote were successful. The county would lose $3,239,230.

Navarro said the biggest increases in the county's 2001 budget are for non-discretionary expenses, some of which were paid out of reserves during 2000. The largest line item was housing of prisoners in Dallas County jails to the tune of over $800,000 last year.

'Eight-hundred thousand last year, eight-hundred thousand this year - it adds up to $1.6 million,' Navarro said.

Other non-discretionary expenses include electricity, water, heating, and telephone services, all required items to maintain facilities, such as the jail, according to state mandated conditions.

Another large increase in the budget was $313,000 for employee health benefits. 'We're not competitive with private industry in our pay scale,' said Price. 'One of the benefits of working for the county is the insurance.'

'I have to question the motives of some of the proponents of the rollback,' said Price.

Rollback efforts have been fueled by anger over commissioners' decision to proceed with building a new administration center and jail facility in spite of overwhelming opposition at the polls. But Price and Navarro agree the approach will hurt the wrong people - county employees who lose their jobs, and county residents who receive inadequate services.

'You can ask my wife how many nights' sleep I've lost over that,' said Navarro, pointing to his list of positions to be cut in the event the rollback goes through.

'Those are real people,' he said.

Rollback proponents have said the county should receive plenty of additional revenue from increased property valuations, making extensive budget cutting unnecessary. They have called the county's cut list a 'scare tactic.'

'Here's a fresh ideal,' wrote Ennis resident David Arnold in a recent letter to the editor of the Ellis County Press.

'If this $52.20 will not be a burden on anyone, then make a space on the tax notice to make it TOTALLY VOLUNTARY to send in the $52.20, then it will not hurt anyone that can not afford it.'

John Tabor, republican party chairman and rollback organizer, said it's about commissioners ignoring the voice of the people.

'Now the people are going to have a chance to decide,' he said.

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