Thursday, June 13, 2024

Denton County budget proposal earmarks funds for mental health, roads, courts, law enforcement

Denton County’s Fiscal Year 2021-2022 proposed budget earmarks an estimated $12 million for public and mental health, road maintenance and improvements, new district and probate courts, cybersecurity measures, law enforcement and emergency preparedness among other elements to meet the challenges of a growing population, an ongoing pandemic and to build continuity of services to the public.

“We designed this budget with the public in mind,” said Denton County Judge Andy Eads. “We believe it is important to focus on roads, mental health and our law enforcement and judicial system while at the same time ensuring continuity of services to the public by supporting employees. During this past year, all of us have faced many challenges but as our population nears the 1 million mark, we must look forward to prepare for the future,” he said.

The focus on those areas are a key part of the proposed $336,907,503 budget under consideration by the Denton County Commissioners Court.

Other key factors in the FY 2021-2022 budget include:

  • Increasing the road project planning in the Permanent Improvement Fund by $2 million, doubling the amount to pay for roads. 
  • Sliding the pay scale for employees by 3 percent for a total of $3.86 million to help ensure starting salaries do not fall behind the market more than they are currently. This initiative will also help promote available county positions in the market. 
  • Providing a 3 percent cost of living adjustment at $3.45 million to help employees move through pay ranges to exceed rates a new employee would receive over time. Denton County employees did not receive raises in the FY 2020-2021 budget year. 
  • Allotting $2.07 million for new hire salary and benefits. Of 86.6 positions requested by county departments, only 60.1 positions were included in the proposed budget. Taking into account four deleted positions, the net number of positions included in the proposed budget is 56.1. Denton County continues to decline in the number of employees per 1,000 residents, falling from a high of 2.33 employees per 1,000 residents in 2014 to the current rate of 2.02 employees per the same number of residents. In 2021, the rate was 2.07 employees per capita. Denton County has the third lowest employee per capita rate out of the top 15 counties by population. 

“We continue to consider “out of the box” ideas for increasing services to you while maintaining a conservative view on new positions,” Judge Eads said. “We have reorganized several departments, eliminating some positions while creating new positions better targeted to delivering what the public needs.”

The county will reclassify a number of positions in law enforcement to better retain existing talent and experience in a highly competitive market, officials said. An additional eight positions will be added with 271 positions being reclassified. In addition, a new Human Trafficking Unit will be created to target a growing issue in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. The estimated cost will be $3.8 million for the recommended changes.

“I appreciate your consideration on giving them what they’re worth,” said Denton County Sheriff Tracy Murphree, referring to his law enforcement team. “With this proposed budget, it will help me with retention,” he said. “And this will help us give people the quality law enforcement they deserve.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Ryan Williams, who has a background in law enforcement, said he agreed with supporting law enforcement and advocated for the additional Human Trafficking Unit.

For road maintenance and improvements, $2 million is set aside for road projects, an estimated $1 million will be spent on capital equipment for roads, and $852,250 is projected for surface treatment, flex base, lumber, fencing, culvert repairs and more.

In January, Denton County also will open two additional courts including the 481st District Court and the Probate Court 2. Total costs for both courts are estimated at $1.2 million. The courts will handle increased demand as county growth escalates.

In the area of public and mental health, the proposed budget includes approximately $1 million for additional staffing including a disease intervention specialist, registered nurse and three assistant program coordinators. A new mental health services program to help post-partum depression patients who are eligible for the Family Planning Grant resources is included along with increased funding for public health and MHMR.

Growth has increased the demand for services under Emergency Preparedness, necessitating the need for five new positions at $581,282, an estimated $280,700 for additional fire calls and $75,000 for countywide ambulance services.

Revenues can fluctuate from year to year and Denton County experienced increased fluctuations in 2020. For example, interest earnings received in 2020 totaled $2.2 million. For the FY 2021-2022 budget, interest earnings are estimated at $169,400.

The county’s main source of revenue is from property taxes, which is different from municipalities, which also receive sales tax revenues.

The proposed tax rate of $0.233086 still falls well below all but one of the top 15 most populated Texas counties in terms of the county tax rate. Denton County, with an estimated population of 933,220, ranks the second lowest in the county tax rate category and is the lowest in the countywide rate. Countywide rates include additional tax rates for such districts as hospitals, community college, and flood control and port authority – none of which exist in Denton County.

“We are committed to ensuring the best use of taxpayer money,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Bobbie J. Mitchell said. As the longest serving member of the Court, Commissioner Mitchell and her fellow Court members say they continue to seek cost saving measures to keep tax rates as low as possible.

According to the Texas Comptroller’s website, Denton County’s tax rate in FY 2021 was the sixth lowest among 254 counties. Four of the remaining five counties had significantly less population, ranging from Midland County with a tax rate of $0.128844 to Reagan County with a tax rate of $0.220020.

For example, using the proposed tax rate of $0.233086 and the average 2021 Denton County home value of $359,651, a resident living in the City of Denton would owe 10 percent of their overall annual property taxes to Denton County. The Denton Independent School District tax rate accounts for 64 percent, while the City of Denton tax rate accounts for 26 percent of the annual amount paid by property owners.

The average Denton County homeowner would see an increase of $29.14 for the county portion of the annual property taxes, which is the difference between this year’s tax rate and next year’s proposed tax rate using the 2021 average home value for both tax rates.

Denton County Commissioners approved the recommended changes to the proposed budget on Tuesday after hearing five appeals from various departments.

The Court will hold a public hearing on the proposed tax rate at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 14. The Court will hold a public hearing at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 21, with a final vote on both the proposed tax rate and the proposed budget on that date.

CTG Staff
CTG Staff
The Cross Timbers Gazette News Department

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