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Upshur commissioners veto appraisal district's budget

BY PHILLIP WILLIAMS
Correspondent
GILMER--Upshur County Commissioners Court on Friday apparently became 
the first of the county’s taxing entities to “veto” the Upshur County 
Appraisal District’s proposed 2014 budget--a move which will negate the 
budget only if several other such entities follow suit.
At least nine of the 17 taxing entities which elect the district’s 
board of directors must pass a resolution vetoing the $790,755 budget 
in order to kill its controversial five percent proposed pay raise for 
district employees. The board authorized the increase in a 3-1 vote to 
approve the budget June 10.
Any entity which doesn’t specifically veto the budget by July 10 
automatically accepts it, according to county Chief Appraiser Sarah 
Curtis, who recommended the pay increase. She said Friday she was 
unaware of any other entity having acted so far, and that she had 
expected the commissioners’ veto.
The commissioners court voted 4-0 to reject the budget, with all four 
commissioners--Paula Gentry, Cole Hefner, Frank Berka and Mike 
Spencer--approving the veto resolution. (The court’s only other member, 
County Judge Dean Fowler, normally votes only to break ties).
In the resolution introduced by Pct. 3 Commissioner Berka, the court 
said approving the pay raise might require a tax increase, and that the 
appraisal district has included pay raises in five of the past six 
years’ budgets.
Commissioners have also objected to the pay hike on grounds that county 
workers have not received a raise in almost seven years, and that the 
county cannot afford one for them in the wake of a major budget 
shortfall that recently surfaced. The commissioners court cut the 
current county budget by almost $1 million to prevent the shortfall..
David Clay, chairman of the appraisal district’s board of directors, 
has said the pay hike was needed in order to compete with other 
appraisal districts for appraisers, and that bringing in a new 
appraiser rather than keeping a current one would cost $10,000.
Mrs. Curtis meanwhile has said the district is “not up to average” in 
paying its employees, compared with other counties’ appraisal districts.
But at Friday’s meeting, Pct. 2 Commissioner Hefner cited the “current 
financial situation of the county” in opposing the measure. Hefner also 
noted the county government pays nearly 27 percent of the appraisal 
district’s annual budget--more than any of 18 other funding entities, 
except the Gilmer Independent School District.
Hefner also said the county would have to pay about $4,500 of the total 
$18,000 proposed for pay raises. Gentry meantime said commissioners had 
no legal authority to reject only part of the budget.
The 17 taxing entities (not all of which are centrally located in 
Upshur County) which have a say on the budget include nine school 
districts (including Gladewater, Harmony, Union Grove, and Big Sandy); 
seven cities (including Gladewater, Big Sandy, Clarksville City and 
Warren City); and the county government, which is a separate entity 
from the appraisal district.
Under law, two of the 19 taxing entities which financially support the 
district, the Kilgore College district and the Upshur County Emergency 
Services District, have no vote on the budget nor on electing the 
district’s board. Mrs. Curtis said she did not know why they don’t.
The city of Union Grove also has no vote because it levies no property 
taxes, she said.
Upshur County Republican Party Chairman Cynthia Ridgeway said she asked 
the Big Sandy school board on June 10 to disapprove the proposed budget.