Facing road woes, county to tackle budget

Howard County commissioners are set to hold a special meeting Monday morning to discuss — and possibly take action on — the proposed 2012-2013 tax rate, the foundation for the court’s fiscal plan for the coming year.According to County Auditor Jackie Olson, the effective tax rate — the rate which would bring in the same levy as last year — is 30.9221 cents per $100 valuation. The rollback rate, which is comprised of the effective rate plus an 8 percent increase in the levy, has been calculated at 33.1460 cents per $100 valuation.The effective rate comes as a stark contrast to last year’s adopted tax rate of 43.6720 cents — nearly 13 cents less — and is due mainly to a heavy increase in mineral valuations, according to County Judge Mark Barr.“We had expected mineral valuations to be up, but we never expected them to be as high as they are,” Barr said. “It came as a bit of a surprise to the court.”Barr said the court is expected to discuss the proposed rate for the coming year, which will likely be the rollback rate.“Going into these types of discussions, it’s impossible to predict how they will go, so there’s really no way to know at this time which way the court will go on the tax rate,” Barr said. “Right now, however, the thinking is to go with the rollback rate. The extra funding is going to be needed in the coming year as we try to deal with the shape the county roads are in.”The issue of wear and tear on county roads is one the court has struggled with for some time now, as the boom in the oilfield — and subsequent increase in truck traffic to and from well sites through out the county — has taken a heavy toll.“The damage to our county roads caused by the increase in truck traffic has been tremendous and it’s getting worse every day,” 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 have considered utilizing road use agreements — which would have the oilfield companies using the roadways paying for a percentage of the upkeep — during the past several months, however, Barr said little to no progress has been made on the issue.“We’ve tried to get some of the oil companies to attend the commissioners meeting so we can get their take on the use of such agreements, but, so far, we haven’t been able to get any cooperation from them,” Barr said. “We’ve made several calls to different companies and we’ve yet to get a single call back from them. We’ve continued to study the issue; however, we haven’t been able to find any clear-cut answers.”The rollback rate, which is still 10 cents lower than last year’s rate, could likely spell some relief for area taxpayers despite being higher than the effective rate, according to Barr.“Because of the increase in mineral values, most taxpayers will see a decrease in their tax bill for the coming year,” Barr said. “It all depends on their valuation and how much it may or may not have changed since last year.”According to Olson, the rollback rate would generate an additional $806,000 over the effective rate.Also Monday, the court is expected to consider purchase requests and hold a budget workshop.The meeting will get under way at 10 a.m. in the commissioners courtroom, located on the third floor of the county courthouse. For more information, contact the county judge’s office at 432-264-2202.Contact Staff Writer Thomas Jenkins at 263-7331 ext. 232 or by e-mail at citydesk@bigspringherald.com