This year’s county departmental budget hearings were a “short and sweet” affair according to the county auditor.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the Cooke County Commissioners Court presided over a series of hearings for each of the county government’s departments.

Shelly Saunders, county auditor, said the 2006-07 budget totals are still up in the air, as each department is figuring out where to make cuts, now that oral reports have been made before the commissioners.

“We’re limited in revenue,” Saunders said. “Also, we don’t have preliminary tax figures, so we don’t know how much money we’ll be getting in tax revenue.”

Last year, the Commissioners narrowly approved a 2005-06 budget of $11 million — about $1 million higher than the 2004-06 budget — and adopted the proposed tax rate of $0.5032 per $100 valuation. The effective tax rate (the rate required to raise as much revenue as the present year) is $0.466398. The 2005-06 tax rate is $0.504 per $100 valuation.

The county’s official budget officer, County Judge Bill Freeman, was unavailable for comment by press time.

Saunders said some of the “big ticket items” this year will probably be opening a new portion of the Cooke County Justice Center and giving county employees a raise.

“The departments (as a whole) are requesting 20 employees, mostly from jail,” Saunders said. “They asked for 10 jailers, two patrol deputies and one maintenance worker so they can open up the last pod.”

The Cooke County Justice Center, which contains a jail, office and courtroom facilities, has its prison section arranged in pod-shaped cell areas.

David Province, jail administrator, said there is a demand for prisoner space from outside the county, and revenue can be raised through leasing space.

“Grayson County has prisoners housed out while they’re out of space. INS is looking for space due to the recent crackdown on illegal immigration,” Province said. “We have the space available, and we have the infrastructure in place. All we need is some staff to open that pod, and we can generate a little revenue ... Anything we can do to raise money for the county is a good thing.”

He said CiviGenics, a private company that leases out prisoner space, is looking to house prisoners in the Cooke County Justice Center. The Commissioners tabled an item to enter a contract with CiviGenics at the Commissioners meeting Monday morning.

Saunders, recently hired as the county auditor, said she is new to the county’s budget process, but having worked with setting budgets before, the best thing to do is gather information about the “needs” of each department.

“Basically, what should happen, not having any history here, is you take this year’s budget, and based on need and what revenue you have, you assess the needs and try to accommodate everybody,” she said

The next step is for the County Commissioners Court to prepare a preliminary budget, approve it, and host a public hearing.

Following the public hearing and submission to the county appraisal district and state agencies, the final budget draft and tax rate is proposed and will then be voted on by the Commissioners Court sometime in late August or September.

Public hearings on the preliminary budget typically occur in August.

On Tuesday’s departmental budget hearing agenda were: County Court at Law/Law Library, John Morris; Court Compliance, Shannon Ing; Treasurer, Judy Hunter; Tax Assessor Collector, Billie Jean Knight; District Clerk, Pat Payne; Muenster Library, Nancy Walter; Justice of the Peace Precinct 4, John Roane; Courthouse Maintenance, Ricky Kerr; Historical Commission, Ron Melugin; Constable Precinct 1, Terry Gilbert; Constable Precinct 4, Tony Ward; and Court Appointed Special Advocates, Vickie Robertson.

On Wednesday’s agenda were: County Attorney’s Office, Tanya Davis; Friends of the Family, Alicia Woodard; EMS and Rural Addressing, Bob Harbin; Cooke County Cooperative Extension, Phyllis Griffin; Highway Patrol, Ray Sappington; Juvenile Probation, Jim Farquhar; Cooke County Heritage Society, Kay Wallace; Commissioners Court Secretary, Vicky Barnes; Cooke County Clerk, Rebecca Lawson; Library, Jennifer Johnson-Spence; Justice of the Peace Precinct 1, Dorthy Lewis; Environmental Health, Laura Blanton; Tri-County Senior Nutrition Project, Sandra Wagoner; Upper Elm and Red Soil and Water Conservation District, William Hermes; Mental Health/Mental Retardation services, Tony Maddox; 235th District Judge, Janelle Haverkamp; and Child Protective Services, Anna Diggs.

Wednesday’s scheduled hearings included: District Attorney, Cindy Stormer; Road and Bridge Precincts 1-4; Veteran’s Service Office, Judson Perry; County Emergency Management/Fire Departments, Ray Fletcher; County Judge, Bill Freeman; County Auditor, Shelly Saunders; Misc. requests (including adult probation, 8th Administrative Judicial Region, etc.); and Sheriff’s Office/Jail, Mike Compton.

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at

andyhoguegdr@ntin.net

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