The county commissioners of Gregg County propose a property tax rate increase of 13.3%, which would be the very first in 18 years. Of that 3.5 cents, two cents are slated to support salaries for law enforcement personnel.
Judge Bill Stoudt told the commissioners the increase is about raising salaries for the law enforcement officers due to their salaries continuously falling behind other East Texas agencies. Stoudt, feeling that the tax rate increase should have been considered two years ago, mentioned that the Gregg County property tax rate had been reduced four times over the years as justification for the increase.
“The problem we have here is, most of the time you would say, ‘You’ve got to control your costs.’ We lost people to the cities because they pay more and are 50 jailers short because the starting salary was $32,000. We’re moving that up to $37,000,” says Stoudt.
The Gregg County proposal received preliminary approval by the commission, with Darryl Primo, the commissioner for Precinct 2, as the only dissenting vote. The public hearing on the tax rate was scheduled for August 23.
Primo said to the commission, “I’ve always believed raising taxes should be a last resort instead of a first. Taxes shouldn’t be raised until all the different alternatives are considered, including spending from reserves, and implementing better management strategies.”
According to Stoudt, the restricted and unrestricted reserve fund is about 40% of the budget, amounting to almost $40 million dollars. This has made it possible to align with the initiatives of the Texas Department of Public Safety and the county has only dipped into the reserve fund for the last three years.
Other justifications for the higher tax rate are the cost of living adjustments for employees who are non-public safety, higher costs of liability and health insurance, indigent legal defense costs, unreimbursed expenses for indigent health care, and higher costs in overtime due to staff shortages.