FAITH HARPER, email@example.com
Smith County's fiscal year 2017 budget focuses on public safety and staff retention.
The Smith County Commissioners Court unanimously approved the $89.8 million budget Tuesday.
Smith County is proposing the same tax rate as this year at 33 cents per $100 property valuation, which will be a tax increase for most homeowners due to increasing property values.
Tax revenues are up almost 3.5 percent, or $1.7 million, over the 2016 budget.
The average Smith County home value increased 4.9 percent, or $7,386, for 2017 - from $150,802 in 2016 to $158,188 next fiscal year, according to information provided by the Smith County Appraisal District.
The homeowner of the average-valued home will pay $24.37 more in county taxes next year, from $497.65 in 2016 to $522.02 in 2017.
Just more than 3 cents of the county's tax rate is dedicated to its debt - from the expansion of the Smith County Jail. The homeowner of the average-valued home will pay $51.68 next year toward that.
The county will pay $4.3 million in combined principal and interest on that note, and will owe $22.1 million at the end of 2017. That note is on track to be paid off in 2022.
Acting County Judge Nathaniel Moran said the budget has two major focuses: on improving the county's road infrastructure and on staff retention, specifically in the area of public service.
"We take public safety seriously," Moran said. "We want to make sure the sheriff has the means he needs to keep and maintain staff."
Smith County Sheriff Smith will have funds to hire a new detective and a new patrol officer, and he also was approved for hiring a part-time fleet manager to take vehicles back and forth to the shop. That job was previously done by lieutenants.
A detective will be reclassified to a crime scene criminalist, and the sheriff was given a reclassification in patrol to add a supervisor position.
Smith was given all the vehicles he requested, including 12 vehicles in the sheriff's office, one in environmental and new transport vans for the jail.
But he was not granted authorization to switch from compensatory time (comp time) to overtime in the sheriff's office and dispatch. He also was not granted some incentive pay for people who take on different job roles or get extra certifications.
"The overtime vs. comp time is an issue we will have to deal with in the future and see if it's best for the county or not ... " Moran said. "But, at the end of the day, we value the Sheriff's Office and the services it provides to citizens."
Smith was, however, given a "team pay" incentive to deputies who take on specific duties. Those include joining the SWAT team or honor guard, as well as becoming instructors or field training officers.
Originally, the Sheriff asked for $100 per month extra for those deputies, with a limit of two.
The approved budget was modified to include a cap of employees that could receive the pay benefit, and lowered the incentive to $50 for honor guard and instructors.
Those are limited to 16 SWAT members, eight field-training officers, 15 instructors and 10 honor guard members. The final budgetary impact is almost $44,000.
Instructors will have an added requirement that they lead 40 hours of training a year to keep the team pay.
ROAD AND BRIDGE
As far as road and bridge, the county is adding $4 million to County Engineer Frank Davis's budget for special road projects. The department is actively compiling a list of roads to repair with the funds and plans to present it to the Commissioners Court later this month.
Overall, the county is proposing a $13.75 million annual budget for road and bridge, including road materials, administration, employees and equipment.
The department also will receive increased funds to purchase asphalt, road oil and culverts.
Road and bridge also will increase its payroll, with the addition of seven employees.
That includes a new road crew of six, who will be assigned to ditch cleaning.
A mechanic also will be added to the shop, which works on all county vehicles.