Editor: Shannon Cottongame
September 21, 2022
The Hill County Commissioners Court approved the county budget and tax rate in a meeting held Tuesday, September 13.
The total county tax rate is comprised of two rates: the general fund rate, which is used for general operating expenses; and the FM lateral rate, which can only be used to purchase road and bridge materials.
The total combined tax rate for the general fund and FM lateral (road and bridge) fund was adopted at $0.459179, which represents a 7.65% decrease in the overall tax rate.
The decreased rate will still result in more property tax revenue, as the average taxable value of a homestead in the county increased over 13% this year, going from $126,806 in 2021 to $143,435 in 2022.
The no-new-revenue rate, which is the rate that would have raised the same amount of revenue as last year, was calculated at $0.430030.
Commissioners made a few last-minute adjustments to the budget prior to its adoption based on feedback from officials and department heads.
A decision was made to create a position for a radio system administrator in the county as work ramps up to convert to an 800-megahertz system. The technology upgrade will allow Hill County’s system to be compatible with surrounding counties and improve communications both within the county and with out-of-county agencies.
The system is expected to be live for the sheriff’s office by the end of the year, and fire departments and other agencies in the county will also have infrastructure available to them if they choose to upgrade.
Because there will be expenses involved with the transition, the current VHF system will remain active until all agencies decide to make the switch.
Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Hemrick, who has been heading up the transition, attended a meeting of the Emergency Services District 1 Board of Commissioners last month and said that the VHF channels will remain active for the foreseeable future to ensure that no department is left behind.
The proposed budget was amended to allow a radio system administrator to be hired with the salary set at $55,000.
Commissioners also added another courthouse security position in the budget to ensure that a security officer is present at the Covington Street annex when the tax office moves to that location.
After wrapping up this year’s budget work, County Judge Justin Lewis thanked the county auditor’s office for their work converting to the new budget software and said that the county had put together a good budget that included a responsible use of taxpayer funds.
Commissioners also finalized a tax abatement agreement for a Sun Valley Solar storage facility project.
The battery energy storage system is designed to discharge energy generated from the solar facility in the Abbott area.
The minimum capital investment of the project is listed at $44 million.
The county’s economic development attorney, Mike Dixon, said that the addition will not take in any new property but will make better use of property that is already in the reinvestment zone.
The company will receive a 50% abatement in years one and two of the project, followed by 40% in years three and four, 35% in year five and 20% in year six, which is the final year of the abatement.
Lewis also asked representatives of Sun Valley Solar to provide training to local volunteer fire departments to ensure that they know how to address the equipment in the event of a fire.
The court also held a public hearing and approved adding a portion of HCR 3436 to the county road maintenance map. The change involves about 700 feet of a road in the unincorporated city of Irene that is not currently on the county’s road maintenance map but has a county road number. The addition will allow the county to maintain the section of road.
Commissioners also approved a credit application with Core & Main that will allow the company to upgrade existing water tanks on the property of the new county annex in Huron. The storage tanks will provide 40,000 gallons of water for road building and fire suppression needs in the northwest portion of the county.
The county will research options for inmate health care after the court took action to seek bids from providers this year. Lewis said that it is in the best interest of taxpayers to seek bids and get the best deal possible for taxpayers.
The court also voted to approve a Point & Pay agreement with a one-time $1,500 setup fee to allow those paying hotel occupancy taxes to make credit card payments.
In other action, the court proclaimed September 17-23 Constitution Week at the request of the Daughters of the American Revolution, approved the Hill County holiday calendar, declared computer equipment as salvage for the information technology department to allow it to be sold, and approved an increase in allowable travel expenses for county employees attending training due to increased costs.
The court’s next regular meeting will be at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, September 27, at the Hill County Courthouse.