Longterm goal: Stabilize county finances
David Barkemeyer
Milam County Judge

The seven community meetings on the 2014 budget have been concluded with attendance being very light at all of them.

I want to thank all of you that took the time to come out, the more of you that can get familiar with the details of the challenges we’re facing in this county, the better I feel about our chances of making some progress together in the future.

For those of you that were not able to attend but are interested, I’ve cut a video of the program and placed it on our website at

We held the first public hearing on the budget and tax rate Monday at the courthouse and the second one is next Wednesday, Sept. 4, at 9 a.m. in the county courtroom, and the final approval will be done at the 10 a.m. Commissioner’s Court meeting on Monday, Sept. 9.

This was a very difficult budget to put forth and is very upsetting to a lot of people including me. I’m not going to rehash all of that.

Looking ahead, 2014 will be a pivotal year for Milam County. We will face some serious needs that will require a significant upturn in our financial fortunes in order for these needs to be met.

First and foremost, we will need to correct the upward turn that we took in our county tax rate this year and get it turned back down. Our goal should be to at least get it back down to 60 cents in 2015.

Secondly, we need to get county employees a significant pay increase in 2015.

Almost all job categories are behind the average of surrounding counties of similar size to Milam County.

The farther behind we get the more difficult it will be to catch up in future years.

Thirdly, we need to get a permanent improvement program underway on our county roads to the tune of one to two million per year as soon as possible.

Unfortunately a negative outcome is a real possibility. I would be deceiving you if I did not mention this scenario. Next July/ August we could be approaching the 2015 budget planning cycle facing zero reserves in the general fund. Those of you that attended one of the meetings know that is what we’ve actually planned into the 2014 budget.

Or, a worst case scenario, we could even be required to borrow against 2015 tax revenue to meet unexpected trial or other costs.

Furthermore our tax base could decline even more due to further problems at Luminant. There are no guarantees. This would result in a further drop in our tax revenue. With no reserves and lower revenue expectations, our ability to do pay increases, reduce the tax rate, and fund road improvements would once again be wishful thinking.

But let’s be optimistic. Let’s assume the capital murder trial costs less than expected and we see that we are going to end the year with our general fund reserves of $600,000-plus all or partially intact.

Minerals and other sources continue to boost sales tax revenues and the county tax base actually grows significantly. This also is a real possibility.

First of all, if this happens, what we don’t want to do is to immediately plus back up on personnel, or worse yet spend our reserves on something else. Rather we must continue to work at being more efficient and continue to build up our general fund reserves toward at least 20% or $2 million. We do need to do pay increases, we must turn the tax rate around and if possible drop it back down to 60 cents, and begin the road improvement program at whatever level we can afford.

Most of all we must get working even harder at growing and diversifying our tax base through our economic development efforts around the county with the ultimate goal of stabilizing the county’s financial situation once and for all.

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2013-08-29 digital edition

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