After considerable discussion, the court also voted 2-1 to retain the county’s current 10.70 percent contribution level to the employee retirement fund.
County Judge Dean Fowler cast the tie-breaking votes on increasing the tax rate to 51.22 cents per $100 valuation--which had drawn protests from several citizens at two public hearings--and on the budget.
Of the $16 million budget, which is about $500,000 below the current one for the 2011-12 fiscal year, some $11.2 million is supported by county tax funds.
Fowler, Pct. 3 Comm. Lloyd Crabtree, and Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer voted for the tax increase, while Pct. 2 Comm. Cole Hefner and Pct. 1 Comm. James Crittenden opposed it.
But the split was different on the budget, where Crabtree and Hefner opposed the proposal..
The court had recently voted 4-1 with Hefner opposing to recommend raising the tax rate to 51.22 cents. Fowler has said the increase would only be for only the coming 2012-13 fiscal year, and would pay off the county’s debt.
Although he voted to recommend the tax hike, Crittenden told The Mirror that “after much consideration, I had second thoughts” about supporting it, leading to his voting against it Friday. While he voted for the proposed 2012-13 budget Friday, he said there were “other areas we probably could have cut in.”
The split votes came during a 3-hour, 10-minute meeting where a woman stormed out and used salty language in scolding the court after Fowler threatened to remove her from the proceedings for speaking up without permission from the audience.
Much of the meeting involved a presentation from Roxanne Bita of the Texas County and District Retirement System of how it works. Hefner has touted reducing employees’ contribution to their retirement from seven percent of their paycheck to four percent on grounds that would save the county money.
He said at Friday’s meeting that lowering the percentage to four percent, and the county’s match from 2-1 to 1-1, would save hundreds of thousands of dollars while forcing county employees to only pay $13,000 extra in taxes.
Fowler said Hefner’s proposal would save about $364,000, telling Hefner that “our payroll is not what you think it is.”
Each employee has his/her own individual fund to which they contribute seven percent of their pay. The county has its own overall retirement fund, in which it puts 10.7 % of all employees’ salary combined as a match, according to Hefner.
When a worker retires either at age 60, after 30 years service, or when their years of service plus age equals 75, they get a 2-1 match from the county of whatever they have put aside, Hefner said. That is, if they saved $100,000, they get $200,000 from the county, he said.
The county has to guarantee a seven percent return and can do so only with tax dollars, Hefner told The Mirror, adding “I think the world of our county employees...but in the times that we’re in, we have to be realistic on what we can afford.”
However, Fowler said during the meeting “the county employees are living in an atmosphere of fear, anger” over what might happen in the new budget. He said several employees had recently left the Sheriff’s Office, and expressed fear of becoming “a training ground for other counties.”
The tax increase, he said, amounts to 6.99 percent.