By Phillip Williams
Upshur County Commissioners Court on Friday lowered the county’s property tax rate after approving the county budget for 2023-24, although dropping the rate won’t prevent most taxpayers from having higher tax bills than they did last year.
The court reduced the rate from the current 59.9 cents per $100 valuation to 49.6 cents-=a 10.3-cent decrease–but increases in taxable property valuations assessed by the Upshur County Appraisal District are expected to generally increase taxes.
In a separate vote from the one on the rate itself, the court ratified raising tax revenue by $1.12 million, or 8.23%, from this fiscal year (which ends Sept. 30.)
County Auditor Connie Williams has said that about $536,000 of the increase will come from new properties, and that the overall increase will go primarily toward the forthcoming historic restoration of the county courthouse in downtown Gilmer.
Williams told the court that while overall valuations in the county jumped about 30%, she also noted that Texas voters can decide to raise their homestead tax exemptions in the Nov. 7 election on proposed amendments to the state constitution.
County Judge Todd Tefteller said that if the exemption increase passes, county taxes on an average homestead will rise only $20.14, which is “not much.”
He also said the state government had required that many valuations be adjusted. (Major increases in valuations drew a protest from several citizens at the county appraisal district in Gilmer earlier this year.)
Dropping the county tax rate to 43.666 cents wouldn’t have increased the county’s tax revenue. The additional intake, though, isn’t enough under state law to require voter approval in a special election.
Besides setting the 49.6-cent rate–which is all for maintenance and opeerations since the county has no debt–the court approved budgets of $18.67 million for the general fund, $2.83 million for the insurance fund, and also a budget for the dedicated fund.
Williams has said the dedicated funds are mainly from grants, along with funding assigned to certain offices for certain purposes, and that most of the dedicated monies come from the county’s reserve fund.
The budget contains $1,200 salary increases for most county workers, more for a handful of others, but no raises for elected officials other than Sheriff Larry Webb and the four county constables. They are Tim Barnett, Jason Weeks, Ronnie Mitchell and David Thompson.
Webb received a $15,000 raise and the constables a $10,000 hike because the increases were required for the county to receive a Rural Law Enforcement Grant from the state, Williams said recently.
During a public hearing on the proposed budget, which the court held in Gilmer on Friday prior to approving it, two citizens commented.
Sherryanna Van Zandt said “I’m okay with” what she was hearing although “we don’t like it.”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Dustin Nicholson replied the proposal was a “very tight, tight budget” and “we try to conserve as much” as possible.
Jeff Decker said the valuation on his property which had no agricultural exemption jumped $120,000 in a year, which was a “hard pill to swallow.”
He said he thought such increases were what stirred up taxpayers.
“To me, it seems like I’m being charged big-city taxes, and I have a trashed road (Bob-O-Link) in front of me,” Decker added. “Where do my taxes go?”
He also said he assumed his property taxes for all entities combined were up about $2,000, that he was on a fixed income, and might sell his home.
Nicholson then pointed out the commissioners court has nothing to do with appraising property values, and Dolle said voters have no direct control over the body that does, the Upshur County Appraisal District.
Dolle explained that elected officials on the county’s taxing entities, such as the court, city councils and school boards, elect the district’s board of directors.
Tefteller then told the audience members the “state’s gonna take your land” if they don’t pay property taxes, and that those dissatisfied with their valuations need to appeal them to the Appraisal Review Board. (It is appointed by the district’s board of directors).
Tefteller said some of his properies were doubled in value, and that he successfully protested.
Decker then said he had gotten the valuation on his house reduced to $30,000 above the previous year, but “I’m getting taxed a lot more money” on property with no agricultural exemption.
He also complained he had to drive only 10-15 miles per hour down his road “because of all the potholes” and “nothing’s changing on the road I drive on.”
Dolle responded that since new County Road Administrator Phil Stegall took over the Road and Bridge Department, it is “doing a lot better job.”
Van Zandt then said her property value rose $60,000, and that the matter which Decker commented on was why she attended the hearing.
Tefteller’s father, Charles Tefteller, said one reason valuations rose was that home prices increased. He also said developers would pay a big price for 100 acres, which affects what “the appraised value is gonna be on your property.”
He referred to the fact that the appraisal district uses values of comparable property in setting a property’s value. Nicholson pointed that out as well.
“You get a big price for your house” and it affects a neighbor’s valuation, Charles Tefteller added.
As for Decker’s complaint about his road, Judge Tefteller said Upshur has 670 miles of county-maintained roads and that if all were paved at the same quality as a farm-to-market road, the cost would be about $300,000 per mile.