County to boost law enforcement spending

Marina Riker By Marina Riker

Aug. 1, 2017 at 7:21 p.m.
Updated Aug. 1, 2017 at 10:25 p.m.

   mct graphic for The Victoria Advocate

The county is planning to boost spending on law enforcement and not increase taxes, despite a sales tax shortfall of about $900,000.

Monday, county commissioners discussed a proposed budget for 2018, which would dictate the amount spent on county activities ranging from building roads to running the Victoria Regional Airport. Monday's meeting kicked off the first of several that could run more than a week - or until county officials decide on a spending plan.

Monday, County Judge Ben Zeller gave an overview of the plan, which wouldn't increase residents' tax rates even with the falling sales tax revenues.

Additionally, the spending plan calls for increasing the sheriff's office budget by $230,000 - from $14.97 million this year to $15.2 million in 2018.

"It highlights this court's emphasis on public safety - no cuts in the (sheriff's office) - in fact a year-over-year increase," said Zeller.

The budget would also increase spending on the Victoria Economic Development Corp. - from $40,000 to $50,000.

Monday, some commissioners expressed support during Zeller's overview presentation.

"It looks like a hell of a plan, Judge," said Commissioner Danny Garcia.

The budget doesn't allow for automatic pay raises for all employees, but would allow for some employees to qualify for increases, according to the plan. Insurance premiums for employees' health plans aren't expected to rise, despite uncertainty in national health insurance markets.

Additionally, the amount of debt owed by the county for big projects is shrinking - which in part lead to the county's credit rating recently improving, said Zeller.

Under the proposed budget, the county would also keep a safe amount of money in reserve accounts in case of emergencies.

"This budget doesn't deplete our reserve fund, or rely on layoffs like 2011," said Zeller.

For the most part, the county was able to scrape up more money for law enforcement by squeezing money out of other departments.

The district attorney's office has proposed to reduce spending by about $116,000, while the health and facilities departments are planning to reduce budgets by $80,000 and $96,000, respectively, according to the plan.

Later this week, county commissioners will hear directly from department heads about how budgets will affect their programs.

Meetings are scheduled for Wednesday and Friday this week.



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