Having received no new word on the progress of SB1158 in the Texas Senate Finance Committee, Hopkins County Judge Robert Newsom notes that time is running out on the bill that would allow county voters to approve or disapprove an increase in sales tax up to one-half percent to pay for the new county jail. The sales tax would take the place of a property tax increase this year and could be used only for the cost of the jail. Although the increase in sales tax would end when the county jail is paid for, the increase would make Hopkins County the highest sales tax county in the state.
Judge Newsom and three county commissioners traveled to Austin and addressed the finance committee in support of the bill one week ago. He stated he had hoped for a vote last week but it did not happen.
There are now three things that can happen according to Newsom: 1) A vote by the finance committee to pass the bill on to the Senate floor, 2) a vote by the committee to not pass the bill to the Senate (8 of 15 votes are needed to move the bill to the senate floor), 3) nothing could happen.
“If nothing happens, nothing will happen,” said Newsom. Newsom said he and commissioners are waiting with hope that the committe will address the bill by the end of the week. The bill is not on an agenda for the committee this week.
According to the Texas Legislature schedule, the finance committee has no meeting scheduled through Thursday. Friday was not on the list of activity for this week.
On Tuesday morning April 21, Newsom and commissioners traveled to Austin with the plea, “Give us a chance to vote.” Senate Bill 1158, which allows voters in Hopkins County to cast ballots related to an increase in sales tax or continue with the 7-cent increase in property tax that will fund construction of the new jail presently under construction.
On the 21st, District Senator Bob Hall introduced SB1158 Tuesday as he told the Finance Committee that after 22 meetings in Hopkins County between commissioner’s court and the public it was the desire of most of the citizens for a sales tax increase to be implemented. Voters in Hopkins County did approve a 7-cent per $100 evaluation tax increase to fund the jail a new jail in the county last year.
Following Hall, County Commissioners Danny Evans, Beth Wisenbaker, and Wade Bartley, along with County Judge Newsom addressed the committee stating that as land owners, commissioners, and business people, they thought the citizens of the county should be given the opportunity to vote for or against an increase in sales tax.
Opposing the bill before the committe, John Kennedy, with the Texas Tax Payers Research Association, said that SB1158 is not a local issue but a state issue. Since 1987, counties could impose sales tax and Kennedy said that currently 123 counties utilize the sales tax option. He thinks that should the county be given the right to vote, then it would take the sales tax out of the hand of the state and put it in the hands of local government only.
Earlier in the month, April 2, Newsom agreed that Hopkins County has the highest hotel/motel tax and would have the highest sales tax should Senate Bill 1158 be approved as it is written and the tax approved by Hopkins County voters.
Newsom also told KSST/Channel 18 news and ksstradio.com that day that the sales tax would only roll back the county property tax for the current year. The tax revenue from the potential additional sales tax could only be used to pay for the jail and could not be used for the general fund. He said the county could raise property taxes as soon as the next year and that evaluation of property could also increase what property owners would pay the county in taxes.