County budget, tax rate approved
WAXAHACHIE – A public hearing and roll call votes made at last week’s Ellis County Commissioners Court for the proposed fiscal year 2024 budget and the adoption of the Ellis County property tax rate for tax year 2023 (fiscal year 2024) both passed unanimously.
In the vote for the budget, the motion was made by Commissioner Kyle Butler, pct. 4, as it had been read by Ellis County Judge Todd Little.
“This budget will raise more total property taxes than last year’s budget by $9,550,833.
“That is equal to a percentage increase of 13.57% and the tax revenue to be raised from new property added to the tax roll this year $4,963,031.”
While the vote did pass unanimously after Butler’s motion, Commissioner Lane Grayson, pct. 2, brought up one concern, which was the adding of an attorney.
Grayson initially said he could not support the budget if they added another attorney.
He said “no” to a new department and new position at the DA’s office, saying it is “counter-productive to two bodies.”
In question was adding to the budget in the amount of $150,000 for an attorney to handle civil matters relating to Commissioners Court.
During Little’s discussion with Grayson prior to the vote, District Attorney Ann Montgomery spoke from a seat in the audience propelling further discussion between her and Little when he asked her if she was shaking her head.
Montgomery responded, but the response was not able to be heard from the microphone for viewers watching at home, including this reporter.
Little reminded Montgomery she had threatened him with a government code section that would create a misdemeanor on the County Judge if he screwed up on the budget. He said she threatened him with legal action.
“You were the one that was going to prosecute me,” Little said.
Montgomery responded by saying “No,” and Little said, “You said you would.”
Montgomery said that was not what she said and Little added, “You said if I knowingly make an error, you would be the one to prosecute me.”
Montgomery then responded a bit louder, “You said to me what is going to happen if I don’t do this next year in the budget.”
She also reminded him she had told him it was a civil action and not a criminal action and that was her civil remedy.
Little explained there are 28 AARPA contracts in the county right now that can’t go out because he does not have a dedicated civil attorney to change the dollar amounts for each contract and send them out to the City of Ennis, City of Glenn Heights, Milford, Ovilla and that the total is $16.5 million that her office does not have the time to handle.
Montgomery and Little clashed in the idea that Montgomery believes this is secretarial work and Little disagreed, saying it is a legal contract.
He also added. “We don’t want to call an outside attorney at $800 an hour when we pay an attorney here.”
He cited more work that needed to be done civilly such as tax abatement policies that have not been renewed for two years in the county and he went on to name several more.
Montgomery said she would draft it and he responded, “only when it is a priority for your office.”
Little said there needs to be a Commissioners Court attorney and Montgomery referred to “her” budget and Little pointed out “not her budget, the counties budget.”
Grayson interrupted and said there is a motion on the floor, and he had the floor and he wanted it back saying to Little “You have a great case here, but it is flawed.”
Little added “We have had three attorneys in two years who have left because they can’t do their job for this court.”
Paul Perry Commissioner Pct #3 was in favor of having an attorney who can work with the court.
“We have no checks and balance… we need to be able to access council sometimes before we take an action, often before we look at a document and I would like to think that when we are discussing budget that there are legal things about the budget we need to discuss with our own council.”
Perry said he had been reluctant to support full time council for the court, but added “I think it is about time we had someone who can do some of the minimal level court.”
Grayson laid out a few more ideas about the hiring of a Commissioner Court attorney and said he would be willing to yield if it is just about creating the position with more discussion otherwise.
From that conversation the vote was roll called and passed.
Little had also pointed out regarding the budget in a letter attached to the entire budget breakdown that “Projects that once seemed unlikely to materialize are not becoming a reality.”
He mentioned plans that call for several pivotal capital projects to begin development including the construction of the Ellis County Central Building, Justice of the Peace #2 Building, newly planned five-story parking garage in downtown Waxahachie adjacent to the courts and administration building. Planned renovations and remodeling of the Courts facility were also mentioned, to bring in needed space for new courtrooms, central jury selection and added security.
Also, several items on the budget that were missing concerned several commissioners and were discussed prior to the motion being made, but it was decided this would be brought back in the future as an amended item.
The adoption of the Ellis County property tax rate for tax year 2023 (fiscal year 2024) went quickly with the motion read by Little and then made by Perry “I move that the property tax rate be increased by the adoption of a tax rate of .272532, which is effectively an 8.2% proposed tax rate, it exceeds the no new revenue rate by 8.24%. The tax rate includes a maintenance and operation rate of .242477 and interest and sinking tax rate of .0100385 and a farm to market lateral road tax rate of .019670.”
A roll call vote for this item was made and passed unanimously.
“I am optimistic about the direction of Ellis County and the leadership and vision provided by our Ellis County Commissioners’ Court,” Little said this past Monday. “Through their willingness to negotiate and deliberate, we have created a budget that effectively balances the needs of our departments and prepares the position of our county for future growth. The Fiscal Year 2023/2024 Budget provides for fiscal responsibility to represent the best interests of our constituents while keeping their tax rate as low as possible.”