RUSK – County leaders unanimously adopted a $22,747,936 budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, following a public hearing at the Cherokee County Courthouse on Tuesday.

Less than a dozen people – mostly county employees – were present for the meeting, and no comments were made by the public during the hearing.

The newly adopted budget is $950,065 greater than the current budget of $21,797,871.

County Judge Chris Davis explained Wednesday that while increased property values have generated greater revenues for the county, an increase in employee health and life insurance costs and the setting aside of funds for upcoming projects that could be initiated during this fiscal year have added to the county's expenses.

“Some of these things in the budget may not be spent, but they need to be paid for,” he said, describing funds set aside for renovations at the county airport and for a TxDOT project on the northern end of the county.

“Before, we were considered economically disadvantaged (by TxDOT), but now, with our employment as low as it is, we are raised out of that status” and may be asked to contribute more to their projects, he said.

In July, the court renewed employee health and life insurance packages offered through the Texas Association of Counties.

The new plan – which goes into effect Oct. 1 – there will be a $1,000 deductible; office visit co-pay rises $5, to $30 per visit; and the upgraded insurance also offers specialist copay of $40 per visit, which is a new feature, according to.

While new the plan is slightly higher, TAC employee benefits consultant Orlando Espinoza assured the court “we want to make sure your rates are pretty stable. The last thing we want is employees to have to get used to something new every year.”

Meanwhile, during Tuesday's meeting, the court set dates for public hearings on a proposed 59.5-cent property tax that funds the budget. Hearings will be held on Sept. 10 and Sept. 17, and will be on the Sept. 24 regular Commissioner's Court meeting agenda as an action item to adopt. All three sessions will begin at 9 a.m. at the county courthouse.

The proposed tax rate, which is assessed per $100 property valuation, remains unchanged since the 2016-17 fiscal year.

In other action, county leaders:

• Approved a County Specific Incentive Program for employees;

• Approved requests for work on utility lines in Precinct 4 on county roads 4209 and 4236 by Afton Grove Water Supply Corp., as well as in Pct. 3 on County Road 3102 by the City of Jacksonville.

• Approved the 2020 Sheriffs' and Constables' Fees report as required under Texas Government Code;

• Approved tax refunds of $2,104 for a resident who received a 100 percent disabled veteran exemption, as well as a $621 refund to a company no longer in business.

• Appointed Patsy Lassiter to the Cherokee County Historical Commission for a term ending Dec. 31, 2020;

• Approved a request from Precinct 4 to purchase sand, clay and iron ore from private property owner in the precinct, and to dispose of tree and brush debris on same private property; and

• Approved consent agenda items that include payment of bills, payroll and transfer of funds.

Following the meeting, Davis fielded questions about a potential burn ban in Cherokee County.

“We are still in moderate (condition), which is just above low,” he said, adding that relies on information from the Texas Forest Service and fire departments within the county to assess the risk.

“I don't think we've had an abnormal bunch of fires or anything, but when people see other counties (issuing a burn ban) and they think, 'Why aren't you?' I don't know what they're using to determine their burn ban, but we use the Forest Service all the way, and we check with them daily.”

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