Galveston County Commissioners Court passed the 2016 operating budget, cutting the county property tax rate by three percent. The new budget is the fifth consecutive county tax cut, resulting in a total tax rate reduction of nearly 10 percent over the past five years.
County Judge Mark Henry, the county’s chief administrator, said Tuesday’s vote increases investment in public services while once again delivering tax cuts to property owners and businesses across the county.
“Our goal in developing this budget is to minimize the burden on county taxpayers by funding services most beneficial to the community,” Henry said. “The primary focus is the health, safety and welfare of citizens and visitors to Galveston County.”
The county’s long-term debt has continued to decrease significantly, with Galveston County avoiding any short-term borrowing to fund operations during the fiscal year. Outstanding debt has decreased by more than $69 million since 2010, a reduction of about 20%.
“This is the type of fiscally responsible budget that we were elected to deliver and we’re proud to be able to deliver tax cuts while investing in the future growth of our county,” Pct. 4 County Commissioner Ken Clark said.
The new spending plan, which passed 4-1 with Commissioner Stephen Holmes opposing, includes significant salary increases for law enforcement personnel. Judge Henry said in order to address market conditions in the region, law enforcement positions in the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office will receive an additional $540,000 annually over and above county-wide pay increases.
Funding was included to transition deputy constables to the higher pay scale used for the sheriff’s office over a two-year period. The budget also puts 19 newly marked law enforcement vehicles on the streets to help protect and serve the citizens of Galveston County.
“Deputy constable pay and other law enforcement salaries have been a source of frustration for a long time,” Pct. 1 County Commissioner Ryan Dennard said. “We have the financial ability to address these issues because of fiscally conservative budgeting during the past several years.”
The budget also creates a county economic development department, expanding on the director position created last year.
“We are following through on the commitment we made last year to take an active role in economic development issues and be a partner with our city governments in attracting investment and jobs to our community,” Dennard said.
For the fourth year in a row, the budget also included a salary increase for all county employees as well as a number of merit and market-based salary adjustments.
Commissioners also approved $2.5 million in continued general fund support for indigent healthcare and increased staff to upgrade county facilities to ensure full accessibility for people with disabilities.