Grassroots states position on the 2013 Smith County's budget
SMITH COUNTY — Grassroots America "We the People" issued the following letter to Smith County Commissioner's Court, regarding the County's 2013 budget:
Grassroots America appreciates the fact that your budget is based on funding with the effective tax rate. By definition, this tax rate will provide the county with approximately the same amount of revenue it had the year before on properties taxed in both years. According to your budget document, the County will still see an increase in property tax revenue – more than half a million dollars ($576,594) due to new property added to the tax rolls.
Our commentary on the budget addresses four major issues:
First, we bring back an issue we raised last year that appears to be unresolved. Based on the difficulty encountered when trying to follow the county’s ending and beginning line item balances from year to year, we recommended the Commissioners Court require the Budget Officer to post an itemized listing of all changes that cause the prior year’s adopted budget line item totals to change. There should be a user-friendly report that lists any and all Court-approved amendments and/or transfers made from line items and between various funds during the fiscal year. This is needed for greater transparency and understanding regarding changes made in the adopted budget during the budget year.
We note your general fund balance reserve ratio has grown considerably past the 12% required by your own policy. It is now projected to be 21.43% -- almost double the percentage your own policy requires for fiscal responsibility. We see no information posted in the proposed budget that would tell taxpayers why you plan to hold almost $13 million in reserve. We are not aware of a published Smith County government emergency plan should there be a national financial collapse (impacting state and local governments), nor are we aware of any published long-range rural transportation plan to properly plan for the upgrades of county roads. In our opinion, these would be the only two legitimate uses for such a large reserve fund. Grassroots America will not support using this reserve for a state highway project; a downtown parking garage; to initiate a rural public bus transportation system; to buy more county property; or to participate in a convention center/arena venue. If the County is going to hold a balance of tax dollars that significantly exceeds the amount required by your own policy for a reserve fund, we highly recommend you tell the taxpayers what your plans are for the funds.
Although the Roadmap Business Plan is published each year in your adopted budget, we understand the Road Map Business plans for individual department leaders remain abandoned and have been so for almost four years; however, we see that Judge Baker has referenced a performance pay program in his executive letter for the budget. It sounds as if the criteria on which the department leaders will be evaluated has been set from the top. We do not recommend or support a top-down approach for such a plan. A true performance pay plan must include full participation from the folks on the ground doing the work. That means they should help build it.
- Finally, as we referenced above – Smith County still has no long-range rural transportation plan to even begin proper budgetary planning for the upgrade of county roads. We urge the Commissioners Court to make this a top priority for the next fiscal year.
We look forward to hearing back from the Commissioners Court on these four issues when you have the answers. We will be happy to publish your responses.
Thank you for serving.