By Phillip Williams
Monday’s meeting of Upshur County Commissioners Court turned up two major pieces of welcome news for local taxpayers–that the court may lower its property tax rate by about 10 cents, and that the state has awarded an additional $2.3 million to the county for the forthcoming courthouse renovation project.
Upshur County Judge Todd Tefteller announced the court will lower the tax rate from the current 59.9 cents per $100 valuatIon, possibly to 49.6 cents. That would be the county’s lowest tax rate since about 2011, he added.
The court will not formally vote on setting the tax rate until Sept. 15, said County Auditor Connie Williams.
Tefteller gave no reason for the planned decrease, but the Upshur County Appraisal District raised property valuations so much this year that several citizens recently attended a protest of the hikes at a meeting of the district’s board of directors.
A property’s taxable value, not just the tax rate itself, affects the amount of taxes assessed on it.
In other major news emerging at Monday’s meeting in Gilmer, the court’s adviser on the courthouse restoration, Marion County Judge Leward J. LaFleur, told commissioners the Texas Historical Commission has increased the amount of grant money it will give counties doing such projects.
He credited the state’s multi-billion dollar budget surplus for the move.
After the court went into a lengthy closed session, LaFleur said during a brief interview that the county will get $2.386 million more than originally expected, bringing the total to $7.605 million.
He also said, though, that local officials are waiting to see if the county’s share of matching funds will go up, down or stay at 15%.
“Really, honestly, I don’t think they’re (state officials) gonna” change the percentage, LaFleur said.
“If everything goes right, we should be swinging hammers in October,” added the judge, who was hired to oversee the project because his own courthouse in Jefferson underwent such a historical restoration.
When LaFleur told the court about the expected boost in the grant Monday, Tefteller said he couldn’t believe it. He noted the county’s share of matching funds could change.
Even if it does, LaFleur told the court, the additional grant funding will help the county.
The court recently chose JC Stoddard Construction Company of San Antonio as “construction manager as contractor” for the project.
Tefteller told commissioners the firm’s proposed contract is “probably gonna be hitting my desk this week.” The court discussed it in closed session before voting to let Tefteller sign it when he and LaFleur approve it, and, in Tefteller’s words, “after all four of you (commissioners) tell me I can.”
He indicated he didn’t want to wait till the court’s next meeting to sign the contract for financial reasons. Stoddard’s construction schedule is 620 days.
The Upshur project is designed to restore the courthouse interior largely to its original appearance when it opened in 1937. The court recently named JC Stoddard Construction Company of San Antonio as “construction manager as contractor” for the project.
Under current plans, courthouse offices will be temporarily housed in at least three places during the construction: leased modular buildings on the courthouse square, a rented nearby office building on Titus Street, and the old Gilmer ISD administration building.
The court leased the school building from GISD for three years at $1 annually.
In other business Monday, the court voted to file the proposed 2023-24 fiscal year budget with County Clerk Terri Ross, and post it on the county website, by Aug. 11.
Williams said the court would hold a public hearing on it Aug. 31, and approve the budget in September.
Commissioners also voted to post public notices, which are normally posted in the courthouse, at the nearby Upshur County Justice Center during the renovation.
In other business Monday, the court approved a budget amendment to grant special pay adjustments (raises) to two employees in county Tax Assessor-Collector Luana Howell’s office, and one worker in County Treasurer Brandy Vick’s office. No reasons were given for the pay hikes.