Grayson budget season begins: Commissioners to lower tax rate, increase employee pay

Jerrie Whiteley
Herald Democrat
Grayson County commissioners Jeff Whitmire, Bart Lawrence, David Whitlock, Phyllis James along with County Judge Bill Magers and County Auditor Suzette Smith work on the proposed county budget for 2022 Monday at the Grayson County Courthouse in Sherman.

Grayson County Commissioners spent part of Monday talking through plans for the 2022 budget. 

By the time they broke for lunch, they had agreed to cut the tax rate, increase pay for county employees and add to the staff at the Sheriff's Office.

How are they gonna pay for all of that? Grayson County Judge Bill Magers said it will be a combination of spending from new growth and utilizing some of the $26 million the county has received in American Rescue Plan funds.

First off, the county plans to cut the tax rate from .3767 per $100 valuation to .3390 per hundred dollar valuation. This is the sixth year that the county has lowered it tax rate in row. New growth,  Magers said, has allowed the county to continue to lower its tax rate while still providing services to county residents and taking care of the county staff. The court  anticipate about $1,499, 084 in new growth this year. They are holding the spending to $46,598.778 which is about four percent over last year. 

Even though he is the county's budget officer, Magers said he can't take credit for the budget alone because all of the elected officials and department heads worked hard to keep their budgets in line and their requests reasonable.

Commissioners are holding the spending to $46,598.778 which is about four percent over last year.

The county will hold public hearings on the approved proposed budget in August. Some of the things that made it into the approved proposed budget this year were a $3.5 percent pay increase for county staff. This will be funded, Magers said, out of American Relief Program funds because the rules under which those funds can be spent classify all county employees as essentials and provides for them to be paid extra for being essentials. That will be around $872,000. 

In addition, commissioners plan to increase the amount paid for fire and ambulance service in the county by 3 percent and add about $2 million to the county's road and bridge funds for the four commissioners combined. This, Magers said, was due to the increased cost for the supplies needed to maintain county roads. 

Each year, Magers noted, the county grows larger and that means some county functions have to grow as well. For the proposed 2022 budget, commissioners approved adding a training sergeant and a sex crimes investigator to the Sheriff's Office. Commissioners also approved adding one full-time person to the communications team at the Sheriff's Office and adding one person to the Development Services Department which handles a lot of the growth in the unincorporated areas of the county for things like plats and sewer permits.

In addition, the commissioners approved several things as capital expenses, some of which can also be paid for out of American Recover Program funds. Grayson County Commissioner Jeff Whitmire and County Auditor Suzette Smith showed the rest of the court the hundred-fifty some odd page rules for spending ARP funds. Magers praised the two for going through that to weed out the things the county can and can't spend the money on. 

He said Grayson County's plan is to use the money to fund things that need to be done as they need to be done rather than to spend it adding new programs or staff positions because, "it is tax money and it should be spent like tax money." 

While the county has been assigned around $26 million in such funds. some has already been spent and some is constricted and can only be spent for certain things. He said the county has a few years to spend the money and they don't want to get in a hurry or go on a spending spree.

The funds, Whitmire said, are tied to improvements that will make it easier for the county to respond to COVID-19 or other such circumstances. For instance, the county has needed, for years, to replace the elevator at the Grayson County Courthouse. It is going to cost around $500,000 to do that. Since the changes will improve air circulation in the elevator and provide for more social distancing in the space, it can be paid for out of the ARP funds. Other expenses that can be paid out of ARP funds, he said, include a percentage of the salaries of those needed at the jail to mitigate COVID-19 exposure there, technology needed by county employees to work remotely thus improving social distancing, heating and air conditioning system replacements at the juvenile detention center and community supervision department thus improving air circulation in those buildings. 

Magers noted that while the county can pay for new laptops out of the ARP funds, that doesn't mean the county is planning to go out and buy all county employees laptops. They plan to use the funds as needed and where it is prudent to do so. The county has until 2024 to lay out its plan for the remainder of the $26 million in funds and until 2026 to actually spend it. 

Other capital expenses approved in the proposed budget include four new Tahoes and one pickup for the SO which will come to around $151,845. Another is about $100,000 for a new roof on the jail.

The county will hold a couple of hearings on the budget in August before voting on it again.