Update Monday 11/3: The Brewster County Commissioner’s Court did vote to move the rollback election to January 13. Judge Kathy Killingsworth explained the change was to satisfy discrepancies between the election code and the tax code and avoid any future litigation regarding county procedure.
“It’s unfortunate the plane language of the tax code and election code are in conflict with one another,” Judge Killingsworth said.
“However, now we are forced to move into January so it will cost the county additional monies to be able to do that…. If the rollback passes, then all of those checks with refunds will have to be sent back to taxpayers at the county’s cost. And we’re talking about a $20 increase on a $100,000 home. And again, this comes from complaints. So in order to prevent litigation, although it’s going to be harmful to the county– and I will point out that the legal fees attached to this are also going to be very exorbitant.
When asked just how much extra money this new election date will cost the county, Killingworth responded, “I have no clue. I don’t have the attorney’s bill yet.”
Update Friday 10/31: Brewster County Commissioners have called a special meeting to consider postponing the special tax rollback election from December 6 to January 13, 2015.
The public meeting will take place on November 3 at the Brewster County Courthouse at 9 am.
Commissioners will discuss and possibly take action on an agenda item to amend the original order calling for the December 6 election.
The meeting agenda as outlined does not call for public comment on the issue.
The county’s Election Administration Office says during a conference call with the judge’s office and one of the county’s attorney, it was noted that the original date could pose a conflict between the state’s tax code and election code.
State rules for tax rollback elections call for such an election to be held no earlier than 30 days “after the last date the governing body could have ruled on the validity of the petition.”
Under those rules, governing bodies must also decide whether a petition calling for a rollback election is valid within 20 days of receiving it.
Brewster County Commissioners received the rollback petition on October 14, and approved it as valid on October 28. The last day they could’ve approved or denied it would have been November 3 – making the original December 6th date seemingly within the rules – 33 days after the county’s last chance for approving/denying the petition.
No county officials reached on Friday could offer further details on the potential conflict, and both Houston and County Judge Kathy Killingsworth were not available for comment.
Organizers opposing a recent tax increase in Brewster County have gathered enough petition signatures to force a special election on the issue, and county commissioners have set the election date for December 6.
On that Saturday, voters will decide whether or not to roll back the increase from a rate of about 39.86 cents back down to a “rollback rate” of 37.27 cents (both rates are per $100 of taxable valuation.)
Early voting on the issue will begin November 19 and run through December 2.
At Tuesday’s meeting, county commissioners set the date after confirming that 931 of the 1,015 petition signatures gathered were from valid registered voters – enough to warrant a special election. (75 signatures came from people not registered to vote and were thus invalid; nine registered voters signed the petition twice.)
County Judge Kathy Killingsworth says while she won’t campaign for or against the effort in her last days in office, she still believes the rollback effort is unnecessary.
“This is not significant for taxpayers,” she says, “we’re talking about two pennies on an extremely low tax rate.”
Killingsworth has defended the increase and the county’s new budget before, telling KRTS the nearly $400,000 in new tax revenue the county expects to raise with the increase would go mainly to road and bridge improvements. She says the extra two cents per $100 will be used to pay for a road materials crusher, and for two new pieces of equipment for the county’s road and bridges department.
Still, opponents fear the money would be used for salary increases for elected officials. The county’s 2015 budget calls for a widespread pay increase for county employees, including commissioners and the county judge.
Killingsworth defended those increases as well, saying on Tuesday that the pay upgrade was “long overdue.” She previously said county salaries are “extremely low.” (You can view a 2014 statewide voluntary survey of county salaries here.)
“I will tell everyone, it’s probably the best budget Brewster County’s ever had,” she says.
Alpine resident and former Sul Ross professor Dale Christophersen helped coordinate the rollback effort. He says that the fact the petition was confirmed sends a message to commissioners.
“I think it certainly could be viewed as a pretty strong rebuke to a commissioners court that went ahead with a tax rate and a budget simply in a very bull-headed way, that failed to take account of the public in general,” he says.
Julianne Braun spearheaded the rollback effort, and says she’s confident it will pass in the election.
“I have talked to people since we stopped collecting signatures who all said ‘boy I wish I’d known about that, I’d have put my signature on there,'” she says.
Braun says she’s happy the election is taking place so soon, and that after talking with the hundreds of people who signed the petition, there’s a general sense of dissatisfaction among the tax increase opponents with how the new revenue might be spent, and a frustration over a lack of transparency from the county.
“There are people who I believe have signed the petition to send a message to the governing body to say ‘hey – talk to us – we don’t want you doing things that don’t represent us,” she says.