Hays County Commissioners approved the Fiscal Year 2020 budget of approximately $383 million and ratified the property tax rate of $.4237 per $100 of valuation for the county on Tuesday.
This budget will raise more revenue from property taxes than last year’s budget by an amount of $4,698,033, or 5.9 percent increase from last year’s budget, according to staff.
And the new property added to the Hays County tax roll this year will bring the county an additional $4,018,307 in property tax revenue.
The FY 2020 budget is an increase from the current 2019 fiscal year budget of $323 million due in large part to additional funding for personnel and equipment for an expanded and renovated County jail and new Public Safety Building.
Those infrastructure improvements were approved by voters in 2016 and will open in 2020. Issuance of the remaining 2016 voter-approved road bond debt also contributed to the budget increase.
The County budgeted $717,000 for expansion of the County’s flood warning system and $750,000 for flood mitigation projects, as well as $2.5 million for new employees — $500,000 of which will fund additional personnel for the Criminal District Attorney’s Office to combat the increased number of child protection and criminal cases that come with the growing population in the county.
Elected officials, except for Commissioner Court members, will receive a five-percent raise, the first since FY 2016 when a salary analysis determined their salaries were below market. The budget includes a three-percent merit pool for employees, and an average 2.5-percent step increase for law enforcement personnel under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The Court budgeted $50,000 to help ensure a complete census count of underserved areas, and in separate action approved submitting a grant application to the Hogg Foundation for additional funds.
The data collected during the census count, which occurs every 10 years, determine the number of seats a state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and is used to distribute billions of dollars in federal funds to local communities.
Approximately $3.5 million will cover FY 2020 costs of outsourcing inmates, which will continue until the current jail is renovated. Inmates in the current jail will be moved to the new jail when it opens to allow for the 1980s-era jail to be modernized
Commissioner Lon Shell expressed interest in increasing the county’s funding for local non-profit organizations by $5,000.
During the final public hearing, commissioners budgeted $95,000 for social services, which includes Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center, the Hays County Food Band, Court Appointed Special Advocates, PALS, the Greater San Marcos Youth Shelter, Capital IDEA and Friends of the Family Justice Center.
Commissioner Walt Smith proposed moving the Hays County Chief of Staff position out of the Hays County Judge’s office and into countywide operations department.
Commissioners voted 3-2 with Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra and Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe-Gonzales voting against.
Under the Countywide Operations department, the Chief of Staff will answer to the entire commissioners’ court from now on.
Smith said Alex Villalobos, chief of staff, who also serves on the Kyle City Council had promised the court he would recuse himself from discussions regarding Hays County.
On a previous occasion, Villalobos said he had consulted with legal counsel to ensure his position on the city council and his position with the county didn’t create a conflict of interest and received a legal opinion on the matter stating it did not.
However, commissioners had expressed concerns and felt uncomfortable with Villalobos discussing and voting with the city council on contracts and other matters between the city and the county.
In the interest of avoiding any potential conflicts of interests, commissioners had asked Villalobos to recuse himself from county-related business discussed by the Kyle City Council as a previous chief of staff, who was also an elected official for a local municipality, had done in the past.
Commissioners had received a verbal promise from the chief of staff during the previous discussion in open court that he would recuse himself in the future on such topics.
Smith said last week, while Villalobos had recused himself from a vote on a contract between Hays County and the City of Kyle regarding the co-located 911 Communications Center, he continued to participate in the discussion.
Villalobos was not present Tuesday to address the commissioners’ concerns or comment on the Chief of Staff’s position’s move.
According to Becerra, Villalobos was out of the office receiving Emergency Coordinator training.
Ingalsbe-Gonzales said she wasn’t opposed to the position’s move and thought it would work better; however, she felt that Villalobos should be part of the conversation.
The FY 2020 budget takes effect on October 1, 2019, and ends on September 30, 2020.