Stoudt

Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt, pictured here, said home construction is at the root of a higher property evaluation in the county this year. (File photo)

Gregg County Commissioners on Monday voted to keep the same tax rate into the new budget year, as well as voting to approve a tax increase resulting from overall higher property values.

Gregg County’s total appraised property values increased less than 1 percent this year to almost $9.23 billion, according to the county’s 2020-21 budget document. Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt has said most of the increase comes from new home construction.

The city of Kilgore is in both Gregg and Rusk counties.

A tax rate of 26.663 cents per $100 valuation would have generated no new revenue from property taxes, according to information from the county. Commissioners adopted the rate of 26.25 per $100 valuation, the same rate since 2012, with the county predicting lower sales tax revenues and other income decreases because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The rate includes funding for general operations, the East Texas Regional Airport and road and bridge work. The value of an average Gregg County home increased from $123,344 in 2019 to $126,941 in 2020, with the average tax bill increasing from $323.78 to $333.22.

Commissioners on Monday also voted to adopt the 2020-21 spending plan of almost $56 million, according to the county, including $3.4 million in capital projects, compared with the adopted 2019-20 budget of $58 million, including about $5 million in capital expenditures.

Pct. 2 Commissioner Darryl Primo offered the lone vote against adoption of the budget and against the overall property tax increase without explanation during Monday’s commissioners court meeting. He voted for the tax rate, however, explaining later that the problem is the ongoing increasing property valuations that result in increased taxes.

He said the increased property tax revenue is unnecessary and said expenses could have been further cut to avoid it. Appraisals are conducted in January, but since that time the pandemic has resulted in job losses and losses for businesses, Primo said.

“That needs to be addressed at the state level,” he said. “There needs to be a provision for when we’ve had the emergency like we’ve had this year — we’re not locked into those higher taxes.”

He also said that while the budget takes care of county employees, elected officials and government services, it could have done more to help county taxpayers, including offering more services in the county health office. He’s written letters to the judge and commissioners about that issue before, he said, and he said there were no meetings of the commissioners’ court before Monday’s adoption of the budget in which the budget could have been discussed.

Stoudt said he meets with commissioners and department heads to help plan the budget each year but that Primo doesn’t meet with him.

The newly adopted budget includes $750,000 to pay for engineering and initial plans for a proposed parking facility that would be built a site the county already purchased across the street from the courthouse. Primo voted against the measure earlier this year, and on Monday pointed to the use of the Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center for jury selection this week as an alternative to building a parking facility.

Airport improvements, road projects and upgrades to the county judge’s courtroom are among other capital projects in the budget. Other courtrooms in the courthouse have already undergone renovations.

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