BONHAM — Fannin County Commissioners recently said they are looking for around $1 million to fund the 2018 fiscal year. The court worked to iron out the wrinkles in a $14 million budget while lowering taxes.
“I will not vote to raise taxes,” Fannin County Judge Spanky Carter said to those who had gathered in the Bonham City Council chambers to hear the county leaders discuss the budget.
Carter said the proposed tax rate for 2018 is 58.9 cents per $100 valuation, which he said is a reduction in the rate from last year. The proposed budget also includes a 3 percent raise for county employees. In an email after the meeting, Carter said the court tries to hold at least 20 percent in reserve and has recently had up to 29 percent in reserve.
U.S. Cenus information estimates the county has 34,031 residents as of 2016, a number that was up from 33,910 in 2010. Carter said Fannin County has seen a 7 percent growth in the taxable value from last year.
Sheriff Mark Johnson said his office has just two people on patrol at most times to cover the 895 miles of the county. The city of Bonham, by contrast, has four people on patrol on each shift, Johnson explained. He said it is very hard to provide adequate protection for the unincorporated areas of the county with only two patrol officers on duty at any one time.
“I don’t know of another county in Texas that has a better retirement program than we have or better health insurance than we have,” Carter said.
Johnson said the proposed budget didn’t give him anything that he asked for.
“I disagree with you on that sir,” Carter said.
Johnson responded that the department didn’t get any deputies.
“We gave you, I know off the top of my head, another half of a car that you can negotiate and try to figure out,” Carter said.
Carter then said the best thing that the court gave Johnson was the fact that they didn’t cut anything out of his budget.
“You have more money to work with than any sheriff has ever had in the history of Fannin County,” Carter said.
That may be so, Johnson said, but that doesn’t help him figure out how to move the office forward.
Carter added that Johnson’s deputies are also making more money than any previous deputies in the history of Fannin County.
“Well, I thank you for that, but it is still not enough,” Johnson said, adding other similar counties he checked with usually start their new deputies at $38,000-$40,000 a year.
In an email days after the meeting, Johnson said his request for the 2018 budget had included four new deputies and to make a part-time secretary full-time to assist with the criminal investigation department. He said he purchased in-car computers for the deputies with seizure money, and had asked commissioners to provide docking stations to put them in the cars. He said he also needed power packs for the cars to run the computers.
Additionally, Johnson said he asked for a 10 percent pay raise for his dispatchers and wanted to give that raise to his entire staff but started with the dispatchers. All he got was the two new vehicles and then enough money to pay for half a car.
“(They) suggested I buy refurbished vehicles,” Johnson said via email, adding the court also approved his request to adjust the transport deputy’s salary to equal a patrol deputy.
District Attorney’s request
Fannin County District Attorney Richard Glaser spoke out at the meeting in favor of the county granting the sheriff’s wish list. He also came with a list of his own, which included some help to scan old criminal court cases so his office can remove those from a storage facility.
Glaser said he also asked for extra money to compensate his staff for the extra driving they are going to have to do since the courtroom restoration means that county employees are spread out over 12 locations. Glaser said his requested for an increase in witness expenses was cut from $1,500 to $1,000.
“We’re embarking on a case that is going to require 15 to 20 that we are going to have to have transcripts for,” he said of his request to move the $15,000 he had budgetted for DPS testing to his grand jury transcripts.
Glaser also asked for additonal part-time help and travel expenses for himself as well as an increase in the amount of his supplement from the county.
Where to find the money
Glaser said the county could more than fund those requested items if it took some of the money earmarked for projects that are not going to be paid out of the 2018 budget and put that money toward things that do need to be paid for in that time period. For instance, he said, Fannin has more than $300,000 set aside to pay electricity, water and other utilties at the courthouse. Since that building will be empty as of September, he said there is no reason that the bills should be that high.
Glaser said there is also $750,000 set aside for a government building that probably won’t be built in 2018 and that money could be used to pay for some of the things other elected officials have asked for and need. Glaser said the court has also set aside more than $1.5 million for prisoner housing and the county never spends everything it has set aside for that expense. And, he said, commissioners set aside $200,000 for Lake Fannin. He said that amount has been put in the budget for three years running.
“And it’s never been used,” Glaser said, adding the budget is for immediate needs.
Carter replied that the county doesn’t really know when Lake Fannin is going to become a reality but the commissioners wanted to start saving for it to avoid tough choices down the road. He also said the county is going to have to pay for the governmental building at some point because everyone who was taken out of the courthouse will not fit back in once the renovation is completed.
Saving the money for that, he said, makes more sense.
In an email after the meeting, Carter said the county experienced a 7 percent growth in taxable value from last year and the its financial policy is to always keep at least 20 percent in reserve. He added the commissioners usually end up with about 29 percent in reserve.
“There’s never enough money to give everybody everything that they want,” Carter said in defending the budget. “We try to be fair. We try to do the best job that we know how to do for the county.”
He added that if the people of Fannin County don’t like the job being done by any member of the court, then those people can be replaced.
Commissioner Dean Lackey said they could take off the $750,000 for the government building and the $200,000 for Lake Fannin and still be “in the red.” He said even after subtracting those amounts, the court is still going to be looking for about $1 million. Lackey said he understands that there isn’t anyone who works for the county that is making as much money as they deserve.
“We don’t have the budget to do the things that Hunt County and everyone else does,” he said, adding they will be able “to make it work” this year but he worries if they keep doing that for a couple of years, the point where they can’t make it work could come.