Commissioners: 'Hard decisions' ahead for budget

Aug. 22—WEATHERFORD — A relatively short budget meeting Monday was even more condensed, as Parker County commissioners tabled discussions of its general fund budget requests to ponder some tough decisions ahead.

"We're not going to have the money to fund even half of the requests we have without making some hard decisions," Precinct 3 Commissioner Larry Walden said. "Those are the cold, hard facts."

Department heads in recent weeks had approached the court to lay out their requests for additional personnel, safety equipment, IT needs and more.

County Auditor Briana Fowler noted this year's no-new-revenue rate of $.252 per $100 valuation would generate about $4 million in additional revenue from last year. However, those additional funds would default to zero as the county balanced its budget with the fund balance from the year prior.

Of the $4 million, roughly $1.5 million has been earmarked for rollover capital and non capital items that are currently budgeted for FY 2023 and $1.3 for recurring salaries.

"Anything we talk about spending can only come from two places: One is raising taxes," Walden said. "The other is spending from fund balance."

Walden later presented a third option for county departments — send word that they better figure out how to cut their budgets and prioritize their needs versus their wish lists.

"We can't afford it is my point," he said. "We've got to figure out how we can move forward, what we're going to be able to pay for and what we're not."

Another $3 million has been spent, in effect by contract, to purchase the city of Weatherford's old police station on Santa Fe Drive. That cost doesn't include any modifications that would need to be made for employees with elections, Parker County Sheriff and juvenile probation offices to be able to relocate to the 14,000-square-foot building.

That would bring the total of the fund balance expenditures to $5.4 million.

"The reality of this is there's some challenges ahead," County Judge Pat Deen said. "Given the growth we're having, we still have to operate and we still have expenses."

Adjusting to the highest rate of M&O would bring an additional $17 million to the county and result in a $68 increase per $100,000 valuation. Adding one cent to the no-new-revenue rate would generate an additional almost $2.2 million.

"I don't think we can do the no-new-revenue rate," Precinct 1 Commissioner George Conley said. "Nobody wants to hear that, but it's gotta be talked about."

Precinct 2 Commissioner Jacob Holt said there's three factors to keep in mind.

"Inflation ... if our taxes don't keep up, the county's buying power continues to decrease," he said. "And the rate of growth is impactful because a new citizen is costing us more than existing citizens.

"Third, the legislature hasn't passed it yet, but they're proposing a significant cut to the real bearer of property taxes, which is school taxes."

Fowler also brought up the impact the budget could have on a proposed $130 million transportation bond residents will vote on in November.

"If that passes and we start going through our credit ratings calls, one thing they always ask is do you have any planned reductions from fund balance," she said. "What they're really looking at is are you balancing your budget?"

A public hearing on the proposed budget for FY 2023-24 is set for 9 a.m. Sept. 1.

Fowler suggested scheduling a vote on the proposed rate Sept. 11, followed by a public hearing Sept. 18. Sept. 25's meeting would be to adopt the new rate.