GAINESVILLE – Cooke County employees could get raises, while taxpayers get lower taxes next year if the Cooke County Commissioners Court has its way.
The court met Friday to set public hearings for establishing Judge Steve Starnes' budget and property tax rates for fiscal year 2022, which begins in October.
Those hearings will be part of the court’s next meeting Aug. 23. The top line number for next year’s budget is yet to be determined, as some of the changes proposed Friday will be subject to exactly what the county can spend its $8 million in federal stimulus money under the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) on.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Gary Hollowell proposed a seven percent raise for county employees if, and only if, the county gets clear guidance that the ARPA money can be used for the raises. The vote was 4-0 in favor of the move
Commissioners voted 4-0 to set next year’s property tax rate at .4130 – 41 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation (about $410 for the year on a property worth $100,000). That number could come in lower, pending the outcome of the Aug. 23 public hearing.
Starnes told the Register on Monday that county officials would attend a meeting in Austin later this month to get briefed on that issue. He conceded that even with the ARPA money, the county would dip into its fund balance for a yet-to-be determined amount.
The ARPA could come in handy with the renovation of the old Kress dime store, located across from the courthouse in downtown Gainesville. The court voted 5-0 last year to purchase the building for $900,000. The purchase was aimed at finding more room for county offices that have outgrown their space and that is still the plan, according to Starnes. No price tag has been set yet for refitting the building.
The commissioners also agreed informally to schedule some work sessions in the near future to address the county’s building and capital needs, with an eye toward establishing plans over the next few years that would prioritize what would be needed and when.
Cooke County Tax Assessor Brandy Ann Carr could get some full-time help to better manage future elections.
The Cooke County Commissioners Court has included a new elections clerk in Carr’s budget request for the new fiscal year, which starts in October. The county is growing, she told the commissioners last week, and that means more voters. She said she already has one clerk who spends “90 percent” of their time on elections – handling registrations, verifying information, updating voting technology, making sure paperwork is filled out correctly and the like.
The current haggling in Austin between Democrats and Republics over imposing more voting changes is likely to increase said workload even more.
Hollowell suggested trying to get by with assigning another current staffer to do election work and try to avoid lines for voters, but Carr said it wasn’t practical.
“We actually do have lines now and we are getting busier,” Carr explained. “… There’s already enough stress in there (in her office).”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Leon Klement defended Carr’s request.
“I don’t think it’s progress if we’re making people wait longer,” Klement said.
Hollowell then agreed with Carr and Klement, and joined in the 4-0 vote in favor of the request.