Taxing entities for Upshur County continued Thursday to divide on whether to veto the Upshur County Appraisal District's proposed budget.
The Union Grove School Board declined Thursday night to second a member's motion to do so only hours after the Ore City City Council approved a veto resolution by 4-1 vote.
Trustee Jeff Webb's motion to approve such a resolution received no second from five other board members in attendance. The meeting then adjourned, meaning the board effectively approved the budget since an entity's taking no vote on it is tantamount to accepting it.
Some 19 taxing entities, including some primarily located in another county, fund the appraisal district. Through a quirk in the law, only 17 have a say on approving its budget, and at least nine of those must veto it by July 10 to negate it.
At least five had approved veto resolutions as of Monday, but the Union Grove board became at least the third to either formally disapprove a veto or decide against even voting on the budget.
Other than the Ore City council, entities which have approved the veto include the County Commissioners Court, Gladewater City Council, a divided Big Sandy City Council, and the Ore City School Board.
The Gilmer City Council voted 5-2 not to approve a veto resolution, and New Diana School Supt. Carl Key has said his school board won't vote on the matter.
County Pct. 1 Comm. Paula Gentry appeared before Union Grove trustees to seek their veto Thursday before the board heard David Clay, chairman of the Appraisal District's Board of Trustees, explain why the proposed budget includes a controversial five percent pay raise for district workers.
During the meeting, board members gave no reasons for their stances on the issue.
Mrs. Gentry said she didn't oppose the budget "just because they were offering raises," but also because of the county government's tight finances. The commissioner, who took office only last Janaury, said the county budget had been reduced $2 million in recent years before a $995,000 budget shortfall recently surfaced.
She also objected that the district had had raises for five of the last six years, and that it was seeking a five percent raise instead of a "standard" two or three percent hike.
When School Supt. Brian Gray asked Mrs. Gentry if she foresaw the county raising taxes just to cover the county's $4,000 share of the pay raise, she said no, "but it is going to set a precedent. . .$4,000 could do a lot of other things for us."
She noted that before she took office last Jan. 1, the county discontinued funding for the Lee Public Library in Gladewater, which is near Union Grove ISD. She also said that, counting the $4,000 for the raises, the county would have to pay a total of $10,000 more than last year as its share of the appraisal district budget.
That $10,000 could help cover the cost of vehicles for school resources officers at New Diana ISD, she said. (That school district has asked the county for two such officers.) In addition, Mrs. Gentry told The Mirror Monday that the extra $10,000 could, "combined with everything else that we have," force a county tax increase.
Mrs. Gentry told the Union Grove board she was appearing on behalf of the Commissioners Court and "taxpayers that have made calls to me." She said she was "just trying to make our money at the county go as far" as possible.
Clay meanwhile told trustees his board proposed the pay raise because the Upshur district's employee compensation is "way below" comparable counties' appraisal districts, "and these (districts) are the people we have to compete with" for workers.
When his district hires appraisers, he said, it spends about $10,000 on having one certified. "You get those people trained, and then somebody will steal them 'cause they pay more. We're trying to get away from that," Clay said.
"We're not extravagant with your money," he added. Compared to like counties, "we're at the low end of the operating budget," Clay asserted.
The board chairman also said his district pays appraisers with 6-10 years experience an average of $30,000 yearly, and that Chief Appraiser Sarah Curtis's salary is $77,000, which is below the average for chiefs in comparable counties. "So we're certainly not overpaying our people," Clay asserted.
He also said the appraisal district had returned $162,000 in unused funds to taxing entities since 2008.
Trustee Rusty Dyar said the proposed budget would boost Union Grove ISD's share of funding the Appraisal District by $2,500, some$1,100 of which would go toward the salary hike. The school's share for the current year of $48,636 would increase to $51,079 for the 2014 budget.
Dyar and Trustees Gregg Grubbs, Tim Turner, Jody Day and Bennie Norris declined to second Webb's motion on the budget. Trustee Kelly Chambliss was absent.
In other action Thursday night, Gray updated the board on developments in the state's school finance situation, which is the subject of litigation brought by Union Grove ISD and hundreds of other school districts who charge the finance formula is inequitable. A state district judge agreed with the schools months ago.
In its recent session held since that ruling, Gray said, the Texas Legislature restored $3 billion of the $5.4 billion in school funding it had cut two years ago--but two thirds of the restored funding will only cover enrollment growth across the state, he said.
Thus, Gray said, he believes "our court case is still valid...still strong." It will resume in January, he said, and "We must continue to fight the good fight for the kids all across the state."
Gray's update came after Clay's and Gentry's presentations, but before Webb made his motion.
Thursday night's meeting was scheduled for the unusually late hour of 8 p.m. because Gray coaches a summer league baseball team (ironically, the game was canceled because his team's opponent failed to have enough players show up). The meeting began shortly after 8, and the board went into an approximately half-hour closed session on personnel before hearing the appraisal district issue.