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Ellis County $2 million budget increase approved

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The Ellis County Press

WAXAHACHIE - Commissioners approved a $2 million increase in the next fiscal year budget.

State mandates, according to officials, contributed to the increase, which includes money for new jailers, employee health insurance and other insurance, as well as funding for an indigent legal defense fund.

And the increase was done with a tax rate decrease.

'Anytime property valuations go up, even if the tax rate is the same, more tax dollars will be coming in,' said County Auditor Mike Navarro. 'In this case, more tax dollars are coming in then were offset by a reduction in the rate.'

Departments cut where they could, according to County Communications Clerk Diana Buckley.

Reductions in precinct road funds were slashed by $115,500, and justice court technology funds cut $6,000 out of their budget, as did the district attorney's check processing fund, which $19,000 was slashed.

The following is a list of mandated increases:

· $146,401 for indigent legal defense.

· $280,894 for seven new jailers.

· $200,000 for employee health insurance.

· $164,758 for worker's compensation.

· $50,000 for fire/liability insurance.

'Judge Adams and commissioners were looking for true balance, not just in the sense of equivalent revenue versus expenditure, but also in the sense of providing efficient, citizen-oriented services consistently throughout the county,' Buckley said.

Topping the list of health and public safety expenditures is listed below:

· $176,000 for four new sheriff deputies (including benefits).

· $70,000 for a new attorney

in the district attorney's office.

· $50,000 for a new DA investigator.

· $650,000 for county employee raises.

· $70,000 for additional staff in county clerk office.

· $35,000 for additional staff in district clerk's office.

· $40,000 for a subdivision coordinator/inspector in the Department of Development.

Also, the county has about $714,000 left to spend on 1999 tax anticipation notes this year, according to Buckley.

The TAN projects include the Ellis County Justice Center, jail addition and the housing of the district courts, courts at law and the county/district clerks.

The tax notes were passed even after voters rejected building the justice center and a new administration building at the polls, but taxpayers still must pay for the debt issued when the notes were floated to help fund the projects.

'In 1999, administrative changes on the state and local levels caused the jail project to run higher than initially anticipated, which in turn halted plans to build the administration center,' said Buckley. 'The $714,000 remaining in the budget is an estimate of how much we will have available to spend next year.'

Additionally, the county judge also proposed creating a new office for human resources and benefits, originally in the treasurer's office, but a decision on that move won't be made until commissioners meet again on Sept. 22.

'I pulled for Chad, campaigned for him and first thing he does is create another government bureaucracy,' said Bristol resident Roy Callender. 'All I see is more government, more taxes and it's pathetic. We're creating more of a tax burden [with a bigger budget].'

More public involvement, Callender said, would give people a sense of the budget process.

'There's still no night court. If this had been done during the night, people would have been able to know what [was] really going on,' said Callender, referring to last week's story about a budget situation with the county treasurer's office.

'They have those meetings in the day so no working person can attend. They're not doing what they were elected to do. Nobody wants to say it, but it's true.'

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