By Debby Schamber
The Orange Leader
Orange County residents will probably see an increase in property taxes to help cover the 2007-08 budget, Judge Carl Thibodeaux said Tuesday morning during a commissioners court workshop.
“We haven’t had a tax increase in two years,” Thibodeaux said. “It’s all catching up to us; we are going to have to do something.”
The first draft of the budget, which Thibodeaux said is a “needs” budget, shows the county requiring $36.9 million to cover those basic needs; however, projected operating revenue from sales tax ($3.5 million), fines and fees ($8.4 million) and property taxes ($21.5 million) comes to just $33.5 million.
“I honestly believe this budget is totally workable,” Thibodeaux said. “I think the public should know where every penny is spent.”
The budget is expected to change on a daily basis and chances are the initial budget will grow, Thibodeaux said, adding he expects to have it finalized by Sept. 17.
The preliminary budget does not include the Reclassification Committee’s recommended pay increases, which could add another $1.3 million to the budget.
The committee was charged with collecting compensation information from both public and private entities in the area and throughout the state. Based on those figures, the committee presented a new employee classification and compensation plan to commissioners last month. The committee’s proposed system, combined with a 3 percent cost of living raise, would add $1.3 million in payroll to the county’s budget — an average increase of more than $3,000 per employee.
Not every county employee would get a raise — other than cost of living — under the proposed plan; however, raises for the 29 department heads alone total more than $300,000 — an average raise of 18 percent. One employee could see a $34,000 raise and two others could get more than $20,000 each. Another seven could get more than a $10,000 raise each.
Also, department heads from Personnel, Election Administration, Emergency Management and the sheriff have all asked for additional personnel, which would cost the county more than $500,000 if approved.
Thibodeaux did not address the reclassification issue and additional personnel requests Tuesday, but said he will in future workshop sessions.
“I am not dodging payroll issues,” Thibodeaux said. “They will probably be gone over in a three-day workshop.”
Multiple workshops are part of the normal process to address issues from various county departments, he said.
The tax rate will also depend on property valuations from the tax assessor. Taxable property values are reported to have increased to about $4.1 billion. The current effective tax rate is 56.886 cents per $100 in property valuation. If property valuations do come in as high as expected, it could mean an extra $2 million in county coffers.