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GILMER–In separate 4-1 votes, Upshur County Commissioners Court last Thursday raised the county’s property tax rate to 59.5 cents per $100 valuation, and approved an approximately $15 million budget which includes a $1,200 pay raise for all workers and elected officials in the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Voting to approve the tax hike and budget were County Judge Dean Fowler, Pct. 1 Commissioner Paula Gentry, Pct. 2 Commissioner Don Gross and Pct. 4 Commissioner Mike Spencer. Pct. 3 Commissioner Frank Berka voted against the measures.

The tax rate rises by more than 2.5 cents from the current 56.98-cent rate. All of the new tax rate is for maintenance and operations since the county has no debt.

On Monday, Berka said “The reason for voting against the tax increase was that it was mainly for county raises across the board, which I have proposed to do at a lesser amount without a tax increase. And the reason I voted agianst the budget (was) because it included the tax increase, and salary increases that were above my proposal.”

Berka said there were additional reasons for his negative votes, but those objections were “the main stuff.”

Even under Berka’s proposal to grant a $675 raise for workers without raising the tax rate, which lost on a 3-2 vote Aug. 22, taxes would have gone up for taxpayers whose valuations were increased by the Upshur County Appraisal District.

The court had voted 3-1 at its Aug. 22 meeting to approve Fowler’s proposal to tentatively approve the tax hike. The move came after several elected officials requested pay raises for their employees.

Fowler said Aug. 22 that if the court was going to raise taxes, it “may as well. . .raise them to the maximum rate” allowed by law without triggering a tax rollback election.

He said the court had actually raised taxes only once in the past 15 years because, although the tax rate went up several years, that was offset by decreased valuations.

Gross said at a recent meeting that workers deserved a pay raise, but that he probably would not accept a raise for himself if the court approved it.

Spencer voted for Berka’s initial proposal, while Fowler cast the tiebreaking vote to defeat it. Fowler, who normally votes only to break ties, did not vote on his own proposal to tentatively raise the rate on Aug. 22, but did vote to finally approve it last Thursday as the court had to take a record vote.

The budget also provides $167,000 for the county to continue operating the Upshur County Library, Fowler said.

The court had recently voted to grant the money on the provision the city operate the library. City and county officials have been locked in a dispute over who owns the property, and the city rejected the proposal it operate the facility.

However, the city council last week approved a proposal to give any insurance proceeds to the county if the library property was damaged. .

In other major business Thursday, the court:

–approved election judges and alternate judges for early and election day voting for the Nov. 7 election on proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution. The Harmony and New Diana school districts will also have respective tax rollback elections that day.

–designated polling places and times for early and election day voting Nov. 7.

–accepted a donation of combination safety-sunglasses from the Union Grove boys’ basketball team for use by the sheriff’s office. Coach Dee Lewis and Sheriff Larry Webb were on hand for the presentation and saw court members don the glasses.

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