2011-09-21 / Front Page

Willacy County to lower tax rate despite deficit

BY TONY VINDELL
Reporter

The Willacy County Commissioners’ Court tentatively agreed to lower the tax rate by 1 cent, but that will not generate $70,000 for the county budget that is facing a deficit of more than $600,000.

County Judge John F Gonzales Jr. said he is in favor of dropping the tax rate even though the county has a defict of $611,000.

“There are two parts to this deficit,” he said on Tuesday. “One is because of the decline in natural gas values. The other is due to revenues the county did not get.”

But he said the county has a rainy day fund of $4.3 million and, because of that, they can afford to lower the tax rate to benefit the taxpayers in these tough economic times .

Commissioners discussed tax rates and other issues during the last budget workshop held Monday as they tried to cut costs in order to balance the budget for fiscal year 2011-12.

Commissioners Fred Serrato and Noe Loya said the county could save additional money by eliminating deals with people paid on a contract or consultant basis.

They suggested terminating a contract with Joe Garcia, of The Garcia Group of Austin, hired earlier this year to lobby for the county at the state capitol for $54,000 a year.

“ I thought paying $35,000 to Sally Velazquez was excessive,” Serrato said, referring to the previous lobbyist the county had. “But $54,000?”

County Judge John F. Gonzales Jr. defended Garcia, saying his company has been instrumental in bringing millions of dollars in grants.

He mentioned a $ 8.5 million grant for the county water and irrigation district and a 500,000 grant the county recently got from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department for a park in Port Mansfield.

But Loya fired back, saying those projects have been in the works for a long time and it happened they were approved this year.

Commissioner Aurelio Guerra said the only way to bring progress to the county is by investing money, something which he said Garcia is doing in Austin.

He also lambasted Loya, Serrato and former commissioner Eddie Chapa, saying the county was in poor financial shape when they were in office before.

Serrato and Loya kept insisting on getting rid of The Garcia Group because of the potential savings to the county.

Gonzales said Garcia’s contract is up for review in January and said to wait until then for possible action.

Another consulting contract they will review is one the county has with Raul Flores, who is getting paid $ 7,000 a month for engineering services.

Flores’ contract is good until the end of this month, and the commissioners court could opt to terminate the contract and to look for a fulltime engineer.

The $ 70,000 the county will not be getting once the new tax rate goes from 61 to 60 cents per $100 of assessed valuation will come from the U. S. Bureau of Prisons/ county contract to house federal prisoners.

“The BOP contract is also allowing us to lower the tax rate by 1 cent,” he said. “We will approve the budget at our Sept. 29 meeting.”

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