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Recent rains may spell end to burn ban

August 25, 2012

Howard County commissioners will consider rescinding the current burn ban when they meet Monday morning, a move county officials say has been made possible by recent rainfall in and around the Crossroads area.

The commissioners court gave the go-ahead for the current burn ban during its July 30 meeting at the request of Howard County Volunteer Fire Chief Tommy Sullivan. Each ban stays in effect for 90 days unless rescinded by the court.

According to County Judge Mark Barr, the decision to do away with the current ban — which would have lasted until late October — also comes at the request of Sullivan.

“I spoke with Tommy (Sullivan) and he feels like we've gotten sufficient rainfall to go ahead and rescind the burn ban,” Barr said. “He's had several requests for controlled burns and with the moisture levels where they are right now, it looks like we're in pretty good shape as far as the dangers of wildfires are concerned.”

While this year's burn bans — which have been a sort of on-again and off-again affair — comes as a sharp contrast to the past several years, when burn bans were almost year-long, Barr said the inconsistent nature of them doesn't appear to present a problem to most county residents.

“Our citizens have been really good about paying attention to whether or not there's a burn ban in place,” Barr said. “We get several calls a week from residents wanting to know the current situation. We haven't had any complaints from folks, so I feel like what we're doing at this point is working very well.”

Also during Monday's meeting, commissioners are slated to hold a budget work session, as county officials continue work on the government entity's 2012-2013 fiscal plan.

“Most of the work is done, it's simply a matter of putting the budget together,” Barr said.

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.

Barr said the court is expected to continue moving forward utilizing the rollback rate, with the second public hearing on the matter slated for the court's Sept. 10 meeting.

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 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 funding generated above the effective tax rate is necessary due to the poor shape county roads are currently 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 too and from well sites through out the county — has taken a heavy toll on the roadways.

“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.

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.

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.

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