“I’m unable to tell (yet) if the tax rate will go up or down” from its present 41.8 cents per $100 valuation, said Fowler. While the county has sustained losses in some areas of revenue, it also had major expenses in the current 2010-2011 budget that won’t recur this coming fiscal year, he noted.
The Upshur County Commissioners Court has not raised its tax rate in Fowler’s seven years in office. He said it was 60 cents per $100 valuation when he became judge.
“I would never want to increase taxes, but as things get more expensive year after year, I’ve come to believe that at some point, there does have to be a tax increase,” said Fowler, a Republican who is seeking a third term against Democrat James (Jim) Eitel in November. “I just think it (any tax hike) needs to be as small as possible and does not need to occur very often.”
He also said that while the timing of County Auditor Gary Smith’s resignation, which was effective Friday, “is not anything negative,” it “has just slowed us down a little bit” in the budget process. “It’s still going to be a week before I have some preliminary numbers,” Fowler said.
The judge said it is also a bit early to tell whether the county budget—currently $17 million—will increase, decrease or remain about the same. One reason for that is that the county won’t get its certified values from the Upshur County Appraisal District until July 26, he said.
The county’s revenues from sales tax have fallen, and “there has been a major decrease” in interest income on invested funds, he said. On the other hand, he said, this fiscal year’s expenses included a $315,000 control panel for the county jail and some computer hardware equipment—expenses which won’t recur this coming fiscal year.
“The struggle that I have every year is whether we have the ability to give raises to the county employees,” Fowler said. One is possible this time, he added.
“I would like to give a $1,500 across-the-board raise, so for some people, that would be a fairly good percentage, as much as 3 to 5 percent. For some people, it would be lower,” Fowler said.
The judge said he also had proposed an $80,000 hike in the road and bridge budget, which includes increases for road oil, diesel fuel, culverts and other supplies. He said that resulted from the amount of wet weather last winter and spring.
Road and Bridge Administrator Bubba Pendarvis submitted a proposed budget, and “he did get some of the increase that he asked for,” Fowler said.
The county commissioners court, which consists of Fowler and four county commissioners, sets the budget and tax rate. The budget and tax rate for the 2010-2011 fiscal year will take effect Oct. 1.