DeWitt commissioners set second public hearing on budget, tax rate after notices not published in two of three county newspapers

Sonny Long

Oct. 4, 2010 at 5:04 a.m.

CUERO - The DeWitt County Commissioners Court has called a special session to hold a public hearing on the 2010-11 budget and 2010 tax rate - items they have already approved.

After two of the three newspapers in the county did not publish the notice of a previous public hearing, commissioners voted to call another.

"It's my fault," said Glenn Rea, editor of the Cuero Record. The Yorktown News-View legal ads are also handled through the Cuero newspaper. "I dropped the ball. For the first time in my 35 years in the business, I failed to publish a public notice like that. We had the information in plenty of time, it just fell through the cracks. It's not the county's fault."

Last week, the Record published an apology and published the notice of the additional public hearing.

State law requires notice of a public hearing on the tax rate and budget be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the county.

The notice was published in the Yoakum Herald-Times only.

County Judge Ben Prause, during a Sept. 24 meeting called to decide whether to have an additional public hearing, said, "All of the papers had the information in a timely manner. For some reason it just got in the Yoakum newspaper. That paper is not circulated as well in the center of the county or in the Yorktown and Nordheim areas. We want to run the notice again in all three papers and in the Victoria Advocate as well. That will give the citizens another chance to comment on the budget and tax rate."

Paul Guidry, of Nordheim, asked when the mistake was caught.

"Daryl Fowler was the first one to notice it," Prause said.

Fowler is Prause's opponent for county judge in the November election.

Mitch Martin of Yorktown was concerned about the limited public notice.

"It's my understanding that the commissioners court was going to proceed with the budget in contradiction with Texas law," he said.

He cited Texas law about the rights of the people to know what its government is doing.

"The government is a servant, not a master of the people," he said. "The people insist on remaining informed.

"I am concerned that something of this magnitude was able to fall through the cracks with limited notice to the people and a budget was still acted upon," he said.

Prause said that the budget and tax rate were passed under the assumption that the notices had appeared.

"I think it's obvious that the Yoakum paper is not a paper of general circulation; that's why we are here today," Prause said. "Nothing really spells out what is general circulation, but to be on the safe side we wanted to republish and call another public hearing."

Commissioners voted unanimously to hold another public hearing.

Fowler, the Republican candidate for county judge, said, "In visiting with people around the county, some never knew there was a public hearing."

"I am pleased the court took the action it did. People need to be informed, they don't need to be suspicious of government. I am not blaming the commissioners or judge for this in any way. The newspapers had the information, it just didn't get published," said Fowler.

After the meeting, Prause said, "We just want to clear the waters and have another hearing. We'll have to re-vote on the budget and tax rate after the public hearing."

On Sept. 13 during the initial public hearing, Fowler expressed concerns about the commissioners court approving a deficit budget and voting themselves a 3 percent pay raise while estimating lower revenue for the road and bridge funds.

Fowler emphasized that he approved of pay raises for other county employees, he just did not think the commissioners themselves should get raises.

The court approved a tax rate of 65.192 cents per $100 valuation, the same rate as last year. It also approved a $12 million operating budget.

Tuesday's agenda includes a possible rescinding of those votes and re-vote on both items.



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