Three Hopkins County residents addressed Hopkins County Commissioners Court regarding the proposed county tax rate during a public hearing held Monday morning at Hopkins County Courthouse.
Proposed Tax Rate
At the Aug. 10 Commissioners Court meeting, Tax Assessor/Collector Debbie Pogue Mitchell recommended the county keep the same tax rate of $0.624892, which is above the effective rate of $0.577457 but below the rollback rate of $0.62556.
“We have challenges this year in a new way of figuring the new tax rate. That is, Senate Bill 2 changed everything,” Hopkins County Judge Robert Newsom said when opening the public hearing for the proposed tax rate on Aug. 17.
“At this time, we are proposing the rate $0.624892,” said Tax Assessor Collector Debbie Mitchell. “We are below the voter-approval rate. I would like to ask that we reschedule another public hearing on September the 8th at 9 a.m.,” Mitchell said Monday.
The effective rate or no-new revenue rate is the tax rate that would be required to raise the same amount in taxes as county property taxes collected in the current year. Formerly the rollback rate, the voter-approval rate is a figure set by the state, an amount of increase in tax roll growth under which the county must remain. The template used to determine the calculation is more complicated than in past years, requiring several additional steps.
“They’ve changed. They didn’t update our calendars and not all of our worksheets until very late in the game. The people that do my programming are still making changes to the program,” Mitchell said.
A Hopkins County tax rate of $0.624892, according to the proposed budget posted on the county website, should generate an additional $752,789 in revenue from property taxes in the coming year, compared to the current tax year, including $272,117 in tax revenue from new property added to the tax roll this year. That means although the tax rate will remain the same, some taxpayers will pay more in taxes due to increased appraisal values.
Jerry Lamb, a resident of Precinct 1, asked the Commissioners Court to consider what that proposed rate would mean for residents, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s beginning to affect all aspects of our life, and eventually it’s going to work it’s way into Hopkins County. I never have been believing the numbers they put out as far as people infected. I believe it’s greater than what they’re posting for our area,” Lamb said. “This virus is affecting jobs, lost revenue, lost tax revenue. Some people are unable to pay their mortgages. Some people are having their cars repossessed. It hasn’t affect our area greatly. Before it’s over, I’m afraid it will because they don’t have a vaccine for it.”
Lamb said the proposed tax rate is higher than the the no-new revenue tax rate, so that means increases in property taxes for the 2020 tax year for property owners.
“I think it’s time for everybody to take a step back and try to do more with less. It’s great if you can give everybody a 2 percent pay raise. That’d be just fantastic. But what about the people that are going to get slapped with the increased tax rate on their properties? A lot of people out here are on fixed incomes and every dollar that you take out of their pocket, that’s a dollar they don’t have for something else,” Lamb said.
Mr. Lamb noted that hundreds of acres around him have changed hands in recent years. Property taxes have increased dramatically for the people who live in that area compared to what it was before the change in ownership. That, Lamb said, means the revenue is coming in for the county.
“It’d be great if you retain all of your employees. Sometimes, someone has to be sacrificed for the greater good of all. Nobody wants to see anybody lose their job. But, I really expect you to come forward and do more with less, and it can be done,” Lamb said.
He said he understands the hardship of cutting back. In his last job, Lamb said he was asked to reduce expenses by 3 percent across the board. The next year was worse and he was required to make a 5 percent reduction.
“It can be done. I hope that you all will reconsider before you just add this to the people that are trying to make ends meet,” Lamb concluded.
“You said a tax increase, the county tax rate has not been increased,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Wade Bartley pointed out.
“It is increasing overall. We’re raising more money, even though our tax rate is not going up,” Mitchell said.
“The rate has not changed. It’s because property values have gone up. It’s caused the increase in the value on everybody’s property that’s caused the increase in the dollar amount,” Bartley said.
FM 1567 Daniel Bobay, who moved to Texas from California about a year ago, said he served on a school board during some of the worst economic times for the California city. The school “tightened the belt quite a bit” for quite a few years so as not to impose any additional burden on people who were out of work and struggling.
“It is very difficult to recover, I understand that. What I would encourage you to do is consider the burden on the people of your districts, the jobs that they’ve lost, the things that have happened to them over the last year, and maybe defer this tax increase to another time when, perhaps in that September meeting, the economic outlook looks a lot different for the people in this county. I appreciate your consideration,” Bobay told the court.
Keith Goodell, who also resides on County Road 1152, off of FM 1567, said he moved in February from Washington after retiring from the military. He has yet to obtain employment and is on a fixed income.
“They’ve just pretty much doubled my taxes, just on my property taxes alone, so pretty much twice what my mortgage is. I understand trying to get it lower,” Goodell told the court.
Goodell said there were not agricultural or other exemptions on the property previously, but he is trying to get that process started. He acknowledge that he missed the deadline of Jan. 1 to file for exemptions for his property. He said when he planned to apply for the Tax Relief Fund Act he was told the deadlines were April 30. He has been told he can request and get the necessary paperwork for property tax exemption Oct. 1 and get those in by Jan. 1, 2021, to potentially receive the exemptions.
He said he too is familiar with “do more with less,” particularly during the last 10 years of his 20 year Naval career.
“The money is there, like he’s saying. I’m paying it. I really am. I’m asking to tighten up the belts. I’m on a fixed income. I’ve been looking for work. It’s pretty difficult in this climate that it is,” Goodell said.
The Precinct 3 Commissioner pointed out that county taxpayers who do not live in a city pay county, school and hospital district taxes, which add up also.
“Of the county tax that you pay the county, about 6-and-a-quarters cents of every $100 goes to maintenance of county roads. We work on a tight budget. We understand your concerns. We have to work on a tight budget. Hopkins County’s been blessed the last 4-5 years because of the increase in property values because are willing to come into our state and pay more money for properties. That’s increasing the values of everybody’s. That’s blessed Hopkins County with additional revenue that we’ve been able to establish a better general fund, to put our county in a good healthy financial situation, but also be able, the last couple of years, to put more money back into our precincts to help build the roads back to a condition that they were in 10-12 years ago,” Bartley said.
He noted that 10-12 years ago finances in the county took a downturn. People had to be laid off. The county had to cut back on many things.
“We’ve blessed and we’ve been in a positive mode the last several years. We realized we have to tighten up in this next year. We are looking at financing may not be as good but Hopkins County is in a good financial position to be able to weather that storm, I think,” Bartley said.
Newsom affirmed the county did experience finance hardship around 2008-2009, and “got almost in financial trouble.” The county has recovered from that but is working toward “some other good things happening, including potential new businesses coming in which, hopefully, will provide additional jobs for county residents like the veteran.
The county has financial advisors, who “advised us to not raise it, definitely not raise it, but to leave it the same because next January we’ll know where we are.”
Typically, the county judge most Texans pay property taxes October-January, because penalties kick in Feb. 1. While most tax payments have come in on schedule this year, officials are concerned people will be “in a position where they won’t be able to pay as much.” The county’s financial advisors recommended keeping the rate the same, so as to have a little extra revenue this year, which could carry over to help when or if that occurs next year.
“The advice so far is don’t raise, don’t lower, leave it alone, the same as it’s been since we’ve got the new jail,” Newsom said. “We built the jail, what 5 years ago. We raised the tax rate through a bond approved by the voters at that time and haven’t raised it since. We don’t want to raise it. Right now, we are in a position where we have to watch out for the welfare.”
County officials are watching the financial situation “very carefully” at the moment, the county judge said. Newsom said the last unemployment report released about a month ago showed Hopkins County “had the best lowest unemployment rate just about in Northeast Texas.” Officials are waiting to see how Hopkins County ranks in the next unemployment report, which Newsom expects to be out later this week.
Another hearing regarding the county tax rate is scheduled for Sept. 8 at 9 a.m. in the Commissioners Courtroom, on the first floor of Hopkins County Courthouse, 118 Church St.