The Kleberg County Commissioners Court voted on Monday to adopt the budget and tax rate for the 2019-20 Fiscal Year, which will include a increase in revenue from property taxes compared to last year’s budget.

According to county records, the county will bring in an additional $401,959 in revenue from property taxes, which is a 3.69 percent increase from last year’s budget. This year’s adopted budget is $15,943,529.

The increase in revenue is due to the tax rate, which was also adopted Monday, and changed from last year’s rate of $0.78145 per $100 valuation to $0.76950 per $100 valuation. Although the rate adopted Monday is lower than last year’s, because of an increase in property values in the county, the lower rate will bring in more revenue.

The rate was passed on a 4-1 vote, with Pct. 1 Commissioner Rosse voting against the budget and the tax rate because the budget does not include wage increases for hourly employees.

“I think for the most part it was a good budget, I just feel like, that the employees needed some help too; since we’re giving to others,” Rosse said.

Rosse was referencing a vote that took place at the Aug. 12 commissioners court meeting, in which the county commissioners set the salaries for elected officials in the county, and included pay increases for all Justices of the Peace, and all four county constables.

The Justices of the Peace will see salary increases from $34,080 to $40,000 per year, an increase of $5,920, and the constables will see a salary increase from $33,752.90 to $40,000 per year, an increase of $6,247.10.

Pct. 3 Commissioner Roy Cantu voted in favor of the budget, but said he did “agree totally” with Rosse and said the commissioners “should look at all employees when we’re looking at pay raises.”

“But I also think we need to keep the county moving and the only way we’ll be able to keep the county moving right now is to go ahead and approve this budget,” Cantu said.

County Judge Rudy Madrid said last year, the county budget included a pay raise to hourly employees, and this year, “in all fairness” the Kleberg County constables and J.P.’s were “very deserving” in their pay raises.

“Any money we raise, any money we save is with the attention of going toward our employees,” Madrid said. “It took 20 years to get to this pay rate that we are at and we can’t fix it overnight. We did it last year. This year we helped who we could.”

Madrid said he “does not feel comfortable leaving ourselves vulnerable” with hourly wage increases because of tax caps that will be brought on by Senate Bill 2 within the next year that could lessen revenue for the county.

Senate Bill 2 — which goes into effect on Jan. 1 2020 — was signed into Texas State law by Gov. Greg Abbott in June and will require county entities to hold a rollback election before they could increase property tax revenues by more than a rate of 3.5 percent.

“We’re finding a position where we’re creating a nice, positive reserve, we’re building infrastructure, and we’re gradually getting those incomes up,” Madrid said. “We’re not going to stop fighting for our employees. I think we can all agree in this court, that our employees are our greatest asset and without them none of this would be happening. We’ve had some huge success stories over the last few years and we’re going to continue to be successful.

“What we’re doing right now is preparing for tomorrow, for next year and the year after,” Madrid added.

In other business, Kingsville City Mayor Sam Fugate spoke to the commissioners court on Monday to thank the county officials for the opportunity to work alongside each other on projects that help “add to the quality of life for everyone” in the area.

However, Fugate said one of his concerns on the projects is the operating cost when Kleberg County and the City of Kingsville renegotiate their contract with the J.K. Northway Exposition Center.

“It costs (the city) $300,000 to $400,000 a year to operate (the coliseum) and revenues were approximately $100,000,” Fugate said. “So you see it costs a great deal to maintain and operate it. And when we enter an agreement with you guys, really truly, the county will have a lot of their employees out there. There’s going to be expectations on the part of the city. We’re going to do our part, don’t get me wrong, but the operating part of it will be an interesting mix on how we’re going to do it.”

Fugate said he “supports the project 100 percent” regarding the renovations for the J.K. Northway, but wanted to make sure everyone understood the cost of operating the venue. 

“It’s a great expense,” Fugate added.

In other business, the court voted unanimously to temporarily lift the burn ban in Kleberg County until Sept. 22, effective immediately.

Commissioners Cantu and Rosse said after having multiple discussions, and considering the rainfall in the area over the last few days, they felt it was necessary to lift it for the next two weeks.

The burn ban will automatically go back into effect at midnight on Sept. 23.

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