Members of public speak for, against Harrison County budget
By: Kevin Schmidt on August 25, 2016
From The Marshall News Messenger
Published on Aug. 23, 2016
Sheriff Tom McCool thanked County Judge Hugh Taylor Monday for the support given in the county budget to his department.
"Looking at it, in general, Harrison County road and bridge and the sheriff's office are properly two of the most important functions of county government - infrastructure and public safety," McCool said. "Just those two items, right there, consume 60 percent of the overall budget.
"I totally support this budget that the judge has put together," he said. "He has supported my office generously as he possibly could along with other very crucial functions of county government."
McCool was one of four who addressed the court during the public hearings concerning the budget on Monday. Tyler Owen, president of the Marshall Police Officers Association, spoke in favor of the budget, also thanking the court for their efforts to support law enforcement.
Those speaking against the budget and increased tax rate were Walter Heck, an elderly resident, and Kevin Schmidt, a local businessman. Heck expressed how surprised he was to find the courtroom nearly empty with no one speaking out other than "one local businessman and one little country hick," he said.
Schmidt, who was addressing the court for the third time, asked the court to not only consider the county's struggles, but also the taxpayers'.
"The oil and gas industry that is hurting you guys right now is also hurting everybody in this county. The people that have lost their incomes, the people that their incomes have been reduced, what do they do?" Schmidt asked. "They don't have the option to go to their neighbor's house, break into their house and steal something to pay their bills, and I think that is the equivalent of what you are asking to happen now."
Schmidt went on to single out Judge Taylor, questioning him why his own property taxes are dramatically less this year compared to the last previous years.
"I was confused. Everybody's taxes are going up. My taxes have gone up. Some of your taxes have gone up. But if you enter your name, judge, in the county, public tax records, yours (have not). Yours may be incorrect, but somehow, magically, your taxes have gone down this year, by some $60,000," Schmidt said.
Judge Taylor responded, pointing out that his taxes have increased by 10 percent, each year, the last five years.
"I'm not saying there's any impropriety, I'm just saying it seems strange that we all have to pay more, but certain people don't," Schmidt said.
Taylor addressed the comments after the meeting, noting that since 2010, the year he was elected, he's seen a 76.9 percent increase in his taxes.
"In 2010, in city, county and school (taxes), I paid $2,199.25. In 2015, the last tax year I paid $3,892.56. That's a 76.9 percent increase, since I became county judge. And never have complained about it," he said.
To infer that he's getting some type of preferential treatment is wrong, he said.
"The fact of the matter is it shows exactly the opposite," Taylor said, adding he was not aware of the 2016 figures. "My experience is I'm paying a lot more because it's been going up 10 percent because of the homestead ceiling."
Harrison Central Appraisal District's Chief Appraiser Robert Lisman verified those facts, noting that the 2016 statements aren't mailed out until October, therefore, Taylor along with the rest of taxpayers who are in his residence bracket are unaware of the reduction. Lisman said all homeowners, boasting more than 3,000 square feet saw a reduction in their taxes this year - not just the county judge.
"There were some scheduled changes in 2016 to those class of houses," Lisman said. "Any B-plus house over 3,000 square foot, there were some schedule changes done. Anybody in that category would've gone down some. We based those on sales of similar type properties. If they weren't selling to what they were selling the year before, of course, they do go down some. He wouldn't have known or anybody else that had that, until October when they get their tax statement. We won't send the tax statements out 'til the first of October. It may go up next year, we don't know."
Schmidt asked the court to vote no on the budget.
"We have to live within our budget," Schmidt said of taxpayers. "When we lose revenue, we have to cut back and I think the county should cut back, too."
Tyler Owen, president of Marshall Police Officers Association said he's for the tax hike to benefit law enforcement.
"The police department and sheriff's office have some of the best men and women that I've ever worked with law enforcement - ever," he said, sharing he's worked in Dallas, Marion and Harrison counties.
"This tax increase is going to support law enforcement. As we all look on media, every single day, we saw law enforcement being targeted, our community's being targeted and I believe that this tax increase is going to help the county protect the citizens," Owen said. "Mr. Schmidt brought up an interesting analogy, to go and break into his neighbor's house and to steal from them to basically supply for their families. This tax increase is going to prevent that."
Owen said one county he worked for cut corners on their equipment, costing a man's life.
"They chose not to have a tax increase. It forced the sheriff to basically provide inadequate equipment to his men and women, (and) forced them to purchase salvaged vehicles for something to put on the roadway," Owen said. "That equipment cost a man's life. So I'm asking you, the commissioners court, to look at this. Any vote for yes, is a vote yes in the law enforcement."
Walter Heck, a 74-year-old resident, said he understands the role of the court, "but your job consists more of just raising taxes."
"You need to do the humane thing," Heck said.
He noted the many properties that are put for sale on the sheriff's auction because people can't pay their taxes.
"Several months ago, there were two pages of stuff was being sold. A few weeks ago, there was another page and a half of the same type thing. I couldn't believe it," Heck said.
He asked for the court to work to bring more businesses in to benefit the local economy.
Judge Taylor noted that the court even took less than the tax neutral rate on at least two occasions in order to not change the rate.
"This rate shouldn't affect you overall," Taylor pointed out, noting senior citizens shouldn't be impacted much. "This rate, which shouldn't affect seniors that are at the cap level, is almost revenue neutral, which means we're hardly asking for more revenue than the last seven or eight years."