Budget cuts could mean job cuts for county

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - By Morgan Chesky - bio | email | Twitter
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email | Twitter

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Smith County Commissioners are drawing lines in the sand.

The proposed county budget for 2011 is calling for cuts and lots of them. Debate on the topic is fierce as both layoffs and increasing tax rates hang in the balance.

Calling the current fiscal situation of Smith County a crisis, commissioner's are working to find a compromise in a proposal that touches every county resident and a significant amount of workers.

At least 30 Smith County jobs are now on the chopping block as commissioner's struggle to repair a budget badly damaged by last years miscalculated projections.

The court is also considering a property tax increase of up to $.33 from the current rate of $.29.

Officials say the measures come after loss of revenue in fines, collections, and appraisals - symptoms of a decrease in taxpayers.

The county's answer requires millions in cuts. Smith County spent $77,600,000 in 2010. Judge Baker is asking to subtract $9,400,000 from that to make the 2011 proposal. That budget is coming in just over $68,000,000.

"I know they've asked us to look at different things along the way, but I think this is probably the most in my 20 years," said James Cowart, J.P. Precinct 5, Smith County.

"Cuts are necessary," said Smith County Judge Joel Baker. "Cuts are pretty deep in this proposed budget. It doesn't make anybody happy. The reality is people will lose their jobs and that's not a pleasant thing for anybody to have to promote."

Even less pleasant, Judge Baker added, the county employees who do keep their jobs may soon face cuts of their own in benefits. Baker says everything is up for discussion, but little progress has been made.

Right now, the only thing in stone is the state mandated deadline. The county must adopt its budget for the upcoming year by August 31st.

Debate will continue next week at 9:30 Tuesday morning in the courthouse annex.

Commissioner JoAnn Hampton is turning to the Texas Attorney General to check the boundaries of county judge's when acting as budget officers. The request questions the authority Judge Baker has given to volunteer financial consultant Mike Canant and the limits of a non-elected official.

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