Smith County Budget Gets Sticky

Many of the services Smith County residents have relied on could be lost. It all hinges on a decision soon to be made by the Commissioners Court.

The proposed budget cuts for 2005 would mean several Smith County agencies could lose half or all of their funding. Court officials say if those cuts aren't made, they may have to raise taxes.

"We're about two million away from where we are and where we need to be in our budget," says County Judge, Becky Dempsey.

Quite a daunting task for the Commissioners Court to undertake, one they say can only be resolved in two ways: cut costs or raise taxes.

"Bottom line is, we could raise taxes and take our chances with the roll back rate, and it'd be real easy for us. That is immoral as far as I'm concerned. I will not support it I will never support it, and I'm going to be making some very tough recommendations to you and I'll just tell you right now, they are not going to be popular," says Judge Dempsey.

Something local agencies agree with. The Child Welfare Board, for example, could lose all of their funding from the county, which is money they say they need to cover all tangible items for the children they help.

"Case and point, I have a child that has problems with his pancreas. His doctor prescribed him medicines to help him fully digest his foods. Medicaid doesn't pay for that, but our board stepped up and paid for those medicines so he could enjoy a normal healthy life," says Kristi Hatcher, a Supervisor from the Child Welfare Board.

The Health Department, facing a nearly $300,000 dock from the county, also spoke out.

"We're among the worst health status indicators in the nation. If you have health status indicators like that it affects us financially, the commercially, it affects us across the board as individuals. We need to become proactive in looking ahead at the resolution of this not sitting and saying 'we're going to cut it,' " says North East Texas Public Health District Board Chairman, Heath McCoy.

But officials say the budget money has to come from somewhere, and finding it from taxpayers is a last resort.

"I am committed to not raising the tax rate. I understand these agency's needs, and I'm sensitive to their needs. But the fact of the matter is, we have to consider everyone in the county. And we have families in this county that can't meet their own budgetary obligations. So I'm not inclined to go out to those people who haven't gotten a raise, who have had increased valuations in their property tax and ask them for more money.

This morning was only a preliminary proposal of the budget. Next Monday morning at 8:30 an official presentation of the budget will be offered. If you would like to speak at the meeting, you can do so by signing up at the County Commissioner's Office, located on 100 North Broadway, room 304.

Reporting: Braid Sharp