Smith County residents spoke out at a public hearing on Tuesday, asking the government not to raise their property taxes.

Five people addressed the Smith County Commissioners Court at the first of two public hearings about a proposed hike in the tax rate.

The Commissioners Court has proposed raising the tax rate from 33.7311 cents per $100 of property valuation to 34.5 cents.

“Since the county employees had a good raise last year, perhaps we could go with a lesser one, like the one that is given to Social Security,” said Maryanne Aiken, 78 of Flint.

Aiken praised Commissioner Terry Phillips, who was the only member of the Commissioners Court who voted against the proposed increase. She also asked for additional public hearings.

Craig Licciardi of Grassroots America-We the People Political Action Committee read a statement in opposition from executive director Joann Fleming. She released the statement later in the day.

“Many cities and counties are rushing to raise taxes this year before the new law goes into effect to limit the amount local government can raise taxes without taxpayer approval,” the statement said. “We are disappointed that Smith County is no different.”

Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law in June, which allows citizens to petition for a tax election if cities and counties seek to increase revenue by more than 3.5 percent in a year. The law takes effect Jan. 1.

Fleming’s statement also took issue with the county’s historically high level of reserves, a portion of the county budget that is similar to a savings account.

“Grassroots America does not support the county overtaxing the people in order to carry surplus funds well above reserve fund policy,” the statement said.

“(Fleming) asked for a written policy to redirect surplus reserve funds to pay cash for capital road improvements and vehicles for the sheriff’s office to no avail,” the statement said.

“Since another year has gone by without a policy that actually dedicates surplus reserves to a capital asset purpose, you once again plan to overtax the citizens of Smith County,” the statement said.

During budget hearings, County Judge Nathaniel Moran has said he prefers to use property tax revenue, a recurring revenue source, to pay for recurring expenses, and reserve balances to pay for one-time spending.

Allen Martin, who spoke for himself, repeated the theme of raising taxes in advance of a state law limiting how much cities and counties can raise taxes without potentially triggering a tax election.

“You’re beating the cap on the taxation that everybody in the state has supported,” Martin said. “We’ve got lots of evidence throughout the state.”

Rudy Wright, of Tyler, compared paying property taxes to paying rent to the government.

“I believe we should be able to own our property and we can never consider owning our property if we are constantly renting it from the state,” Wright said.

“I’m willing to stand up and be brave just like Mr. Phillips was willing to stand up and be brave,” Wright said.

Richard Blake, 68, of Tyler, spoke about taxes and general government.

“In my opinion, this proposed tax rate is not about so much the amount so much as it is an increase,” Blake said.

“This is a microcosm of my federal government, increasing the size and scope of the government,” he said.

The Commissioners Court did not comment on the specific concerns that people brought up, but Moran said their comments are welcome.

Another hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in the Smith County Courthouse Annex, at the beginning of the next Commissioners Court meeting.

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