Commissioners formally OK new tax rate

Howard County commissioners closed the books on their fiscal plan for the coming year Monday morning, as the court adopted its 2012-2013 tax rate on a unanimous vote.The court adopted a tax rate of 33 cents per $100 valuation, down considerably from last year's 43.6720 cents per $100 valuation.County Auditor Jackie Olson said the 2012-2013 rate — which is slightly more than the effective tax rate of 30.9221 cents — will generate $753,000 more tax dollars for the county than last year's levy.According to County Judge Mark Barr, the court will be collecting more in taxes this coming year, however, thanks to higher than expected mineral values, most property owners will still see a decrease in their tax bill.“As always, it all comes down to what your home is appraised at. That's the bottom line,” Barr said. “However, most property owners who didn't see an increase in the value of their property are going to see their tax bill go down this year, which is something I think everyone can be thankful for.”Barr said the additional funding is necessary for the county to address its ongoing issue with roadway damages, which continue to grow exponentially due to the current boom in the oilfield.“We have to address this problem and, unfortunately, it looks like it will be the taxpayers who have to foot the bill for it,” Barr said. “Overall, the damage is estimated at approximately $22 million right now. What we're hoping to do is be able to spend approximately $400,000 to $500,000 a year to try to make repairs. This isn't something we're going to be able to fix all at one time, obviously.”Commissioners also discussed the possible implementation of a road use agreement with the oil companies causing many of the road issues.Barr asked Precinct 2 Commissioner Donnie Baker and Precinct 3 Commissioner Jimmie Long to meet with County Attorney Joshua Hamby to hammer out further details on the agreement, which could be ready for implementation soon.“We have a good template, we just need to get a few of the details looked at, which is what I asked Commissioners Baker and Long to meet with the county attorney about,” Barr said. “Once we have those details ready, my understanding is it's simply a matter of putting the agreement into effect.”Barr said the road use agreement the court is currently moving forward with is based on a template currently being used by another Texas county and would call for oil companies that use the county roadways to pay for much of the damage caused to them.Several months ago, the court began discussion of implementing such agreements — and also invited area oil companies to begin talks on the subject. However, according to Barr, the invitation failed to bring any officials from the oil industry to the table for talks.Barr said it's unclear how long it will take before the agreements will be in place, but he doesn't think it will be long.“My understanding is once we have the language worked out and approved, that's it,” Barr said. “It's pretty simple. We'll just have to see how things go.”