Of 17 entities which have a say on the budget, at least nine had to approve veto resolutions no later than Wednesday in order to negate it—and only six apparently did so. And of those six, only four filed their resolutions with the Appraisal District by Wednesday, which was required for their veto vote to count, said Upshur County Chief Appraiser Sarah Curtis.
From various sources and by covering some of the meetings at which governmental bodies voted on the matter, The Mirror learned that 11 entities either apparently formally rejected a veto or did not vote on the issue, which by law was tantamount to approving the $790,755 budget.
The proposed budget had come under fire from Upshur County commissioners and County GOP Chairman Cynthia Ridgeway, partly because it contained a proposed 5 percent pay raise for district employees. Some opponents also objected that the proposed budget would increase taxes.
The district had maintained the raises were needed to compete with other appraisal districts for workers, pointing out that training a replacement for any appraiser who leaves costs $10,000. The UCAD board of directors approved the budget by 3-1 vote on June 10 with one member absent, and taxing entities had 30 days to veto it.
Entities who approved veto resolutions included the Upshur County Commissioners Court, which Mrs. Curtis said failed to file its resolution with the district; the Gladewater City Council, which she said also did not file its resolution; the Big Sandy, Ore City and East Mountain City Councils; and the Ore City School Board.
Big Sandy had approved the veto by a 3-2 vote, while Ore City’s council approved it 4-1. The Ore City school board approved it 3-0 with one absention and three members absent.
The Gilmer City Council rejected a veto, 5-2. Ten other entities apparently took no vote on it, either because they didn’t take up the issue at all or because a member’s motion to veto died for lack of a second.
They included eight school districts—Gilmer, New Diana, Union Hill, Union Grove, Harmony, Pittsburg, Gladewater and Big Sandy, and two cities located primarily outside the county, Warren City and Clarksville City.
Although 19 taxing entities fund the district, a quirk in state law only allowed 17 of them to act on the veto. The two that couldn’t are the Kilgore College district and the Upshur County Emergency Services District.
And in another quirk of the law, no matter how much of the Appraisal District an entity funds, it still only has one vote on approving or rejecting their budget.
In a statement faxed to The Mirror Thursday, Mrs. Curtis said, “I’m glad it’s over. We can all get back to our ‘normal’ jobs.
“I appreciate the entities that didn’t veto our budget and the entities that did. I know they voted for what was best for their jurisdiction and taxpayers. I hope they all understand that we do try to be conservative with tax dollars. We also work for the taxpayers and not the State, although we are regulated by state law.
“The District asks only for what we estimate will be needed to fund our operation. We don’t pad the budget and we give back as much as possible. We are audited annually by an outside firm and the current audit report is available for public inspection on our website, www.upshur-cad.org.
“That being said, I will continue to try and pay my staff a fair and competitive salary for the work they do. They weathered this month of name-calling and vetoes with patience, class and continued hard work. I appreciate and commend them all.”
Mrs. Ridgeway, who joined Commissioners Frank Berka and Paula Gentry in leading the fight to veto the budget, said Tuesday its foes “need to lobby our state legislature to require all our taxing entities to have an up-or-down vote” on the Appraisal District’s annual budget rather than being able to approve it simply by inaction.
“I believe that the public has become more aware through this process than they ever were before” concerning the district’s budget, she added Tuesday, when it had become apparent the veto effort had failed. “If there would have been more time (for entities to vote on it), I think there would have been a different outcome.”
On Monday night, the East Mountain City Council approved a veto, but the Big Sandy school board declined to vote on the matter and a Harmony school board member’s motion to approve a veto died for lack of a second, Mrs. Ridgeway said Tuesday. At a recent meeting, a Union Grove school board member’s motion to approve the veto also died for lack of a second.
At the Big Sandy board meeting, Mrs. Curtis and David Clay, chairman of the Appraisal District’s Board of Directors, appeared on behalf of the district’s proposal, while Mrs. Gentry represented the pro-veto forces.
Mrs. Gentry said Thursday she was unaware that the Commissioners Court’s veto resolution hadn’t been filed with the Appraisal District and that she did not know the process for doing it. Berka could not be reached for comment on that.