This is the text of the statement by Jerry Golden to the Bosque County Commissioners Court, October 5, 2020:
The September 30 Clifton Record contains an article headlined “Bosque Auditor explains questionable items in budget.” In the article, statements attributed to the County Auditor fail to respond to my principal concerns (as expressed at the September 8 public hearing on the tax rate), and in fact raise new ones.
First, why was my chief concern overlooked in the September 30 article? At the September 8 tax rate hearing, I emphasized the County’s decision to raise taxes on the aggregate of existing properties by 8 % is what I consider to be an open defiance of Senate Bill 2, the Texas Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act of 2019. That law is designed specifically to hold property tax increases to 3.5 % or less. For whatever reason, the September 30 Clifton Record article cites some individual budget categories but does not address what I consider to be the single-most important issue—raising taxes beyond S B 2 allowances.
Judge Poole is quoted in the September 2 Clifton Record as saying he believes that keeping the tax rate the same as last year amounts to not raising taxes. The Clifton Record, in its September 16 article correctly quotes me as saying this was a commonly held misconception that is “…at best a half-truth…” What I added but was not reported is that the claim is sometimes used as a “red herring,” a term derived from the practice of covering one smell with a worse one to confuse the bloodhounds. Senate Bill 2 uses simple arithmetic to demonstrate that the taxing entity will almost certainly have to lower the tax rate if appraisals go up more than 3.5 % on average.
Second, where is the COVID-19 emergency argument now? During the hearing on September 8, the County Auditor claimed that the 8 % is justified because of national and State COVID emergency declarations. The reasoning given then was that contingency funds are needed in case the promised state and federal COVID assistance fail to materialize. But when asked if that meant a refund would come to taxpayers when the grants are received, there was no response. Suprisingly, the Auditor then admitted that funds could not be line-itemed for COVID in the budget because it could jeopardize the County’s eligibility for those grants. The irony should be obvious.
As I said, the COVID disaster “defense” was absent in the September 30 article. In its place, the $300,000 contingency fund is explained more as having something to do with a balanced budget. At the tax rate hearing I tried to show that the purpose of Senate Bill 2, supported by Republican Governor Greg Abbott and passed by a Republican legislature, was to hold property tax increases to 3.5 % or less each year, subject only to a few stated exceptions such as hospital districts. Using COVID as a justification under the Governor’s emergency declarations is at best a thin argument because the State emergency declaration was originated to help communities hit by natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes.
Finally, who is authorized to speak for the County? State law1 stipulates that the Budget Officer of counties under 225,000 population is the County Judge. The County Auditor and County Clerk are authorized to assist in the budget process 2 , but the Budget Officer is forbidden— as are the Mayors in all general law cities—from delegating that role to anyone else. It would seem appropriate that the County Judge, as statutory Budget Officer, should be the face of County government, especially in matters relating to budgeting and taxation. The County Auditor is an unelected position, appointed for two-year terms by the District Judge. As a result there is no accountability either to voters or the Commissioners Court. Obviously this is the legislative intent, but it is also potentially problematic should the Auditor attempt to assert powers that don’t exist.
I do not wish to appear disrespectful or disruptive, but I do believe that Senate Bill 2 must be applied as the governor and legislature intended. I don’t anticipate change this year, but certainly by the next fiscal year. I truly want to believe that this body will not permit a repeat of this year’s happenings. People have said to me, and I quote: “This is how you turn a red state blue.” Please consider that as we go forward.