Higher valuations help county; employees to receive pay hike

Howard County commissioners approved a slight increase in the tax levy during their budget workshop Monday morning.Commissioner gave a tentative OK to a new tax rate of 33 cents per $100 valuation, a sharp decrease from 43.7 cents the previous year. Because of of higher property valuations, however, the new rate will bring in more tax money.The higher levy will not automatically translate into increased tax bills, County Judge Mark Barr quickly noted.“Some people will see a tax decrease,” he said. “Mineral values account for more than half of the tax (levy) increase.”The major target for the increased funds will be the road and bridge department, which is expected to receive about $500,000 more this coming fiscal year to deal with deteriorating roads in the county.“We've got some roads, particularly in the northwest part of the county, that because of heavy oilfield traffic are just about totally broken up,” Barr said. “So we felt we had to do something to repair them … and, unfortunately, that takes a lot of money.“We have to maintain the county's roads, and things aren't getting any cheaper in that area,” he added.Barr held out the possibility that commissioners may earmark even more money for road improvements before the budget is formally adopted in September.In addition to roads, another area commissioners targeted was salaries, tentatively agreeing to give all employees (except elected officials) a $1,000 annual raise. This marks the first time in two years that county employees will see a raise in their pay, County Auditor Jackie Olson said.The remainder of the county budget remains largely unchanged compared to the previous year, officials said. Barr said commissioners will continue work on the new fiscal package at their next meeting Monday but didn't expect any major changes between now and formal adoption.“We'll still be fine-tuning the budget a bit, but for the most part, we've got the main ingredients in place,” he said.