By Anita Miller
The Hays County Commissioners Court passed its FY 2020 budget on Tuesday after making several changes including adding $95,000 in funding for social service agencies.
The most contentious change was changing the position of Chief of Staff, currently held by Alex Villalobos, from the office of the county judge to a countywide position. The change was made by a vote of 3 to 2. The position held Villalobos, who was not present in court, was challenged by Pct. 4 Commissioner Walt Smith and Pct. 3 Commissioner Lon Shell, both Republicans, who said he only answers to County Judge Ruben Becerra, a Democrat. They also expressed concerns over perceived conflicts of interest because he serves as a Kyle City Council member. Becerra and Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe, Democrats, voiced concerns that the decision was being made without input from Villalobos.
Social service agencies that will each receive an additional $5,000 are the Hays County Food Bank, the Hays Caldwel Womens Center, the Greater San Marcos Youth Shelter, CASA of Central Texas and PALS Prevent-A-Litter. Additionally, the Capital Idea program, which provides employment and other services to low-income individuals, received an additional $25,000, while the Friends of the Family Justice Center received an additional $45,000.
Commissioners also approved a property tax increase and adopted an ad valorem tax rate of 42.37 cents, which includes 26.53 cents for general maintenance and operations, 12.46 cents for general debt and 3.38 cents for road and bridge maintenance and operation.
They also approved a motion reading, “This budget will raise more revenue from property taxes than last year’s budget by an amount of $4,698,033, which is a 5.90 percent increase from last year’s budget. The property tax revenue to be raised from new property added to the tax roll this year is $4,018,306.65.”
All told, the budget exceeds $383 million. It includes a 5 percent pay raise for elected officials except for commissioners and the county judge and combines a recommended 2 percent COLA and 1 percent merit raise for other county employees into a 3 percent merit raise.
An exception to that is an average of 2.25 percent pay increase for law enforcement officers who fall under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The jail expansion and new public safety building, both scheduled to open next year, got $1.8 million, though members of the court argued over its placement. Becerra had initially suggested a site in Kyle but the facility will be adjacent to the Government Center on South Stagecoach Road in San Marcos.
Also included in the budget are $718,000 to expand the county’s flood warning system installed at low-water crossings and $750,000 to fund future flood mitigation projects.
Prior to Monday’s discussion and vote, two public hearings were held on the proposed tax rate and one was held concerning the budget.