As companies and families adapt to the current economic times by tightening their belts, so should the county, according to Hunt County Judge John Horn.

The county is slated to begin budget workshops for the upcoming fiscal year in June.

“One word to describe this budget year is that it is going to be challenging,” said Horn. “It is no secret as to the way the economy has been going and the state it is in now.”

Going into the budgeting process, Horn’s mindset is to reduce wastefulness and inefficiency where it exists, while still providing necessary services.

According to Horn, alternative revenue sources such as interest earned from investments, county employee retirement funds, and income earned from housing federal inmates are down approximately $1 million, or five percent, of the operating budget this fiscal year.

The county operates on a general fund budget of approximately $24 million. The county’s fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

The biggest hits have come from investments, and housing federal prisoners.

At this point in 2008, the county had earned approximately $231,000 in investment interest earned. This fiscal year, the county has earned approximately $51,000.

At this point in 2008, the county had earned more than $400,000 from housing federal inmates. As of now, the county has earned approximately $224,000.

“These are supplemental sources of revenue to support the general fund,” said Horn.

The county’s main sources of revenue are ad valorem taxes, fines and fees and the above mentioned alternative sources.

With the current state of the economy, some might question why the Commissioners Court lowered the tax rate last year by five cents per $100 valuation.

“The question that has been posed to me is why we lowered the tax rate last year,” said Horn.

According to Horn, if the county kept the same rate, utilized the funds from the reappraised property values in 2008 to make additional expenditures and counted on the same kind of increase this year, the county would be in a less advantageous financial situation.

“The majority of the additional tax revenue was due to a readjustment by the tax appraisal district, not from growth,” said Horn.

Horn outlined the primary objectives of the county as ensuring adequate police protection, properly maintaining roads, the health and safety of the public and maintaining a healthy cash reserve.

“We don’t want to end up like some of the financially challenged counties or have to go to a bank for a loan so we can make payroll,” said Horn. “That’s not good business.”

Horn describes the upcoming budget process as a balancing act and will require all elected officials and department heads to view it in that light.

“We have to prioritize what the true needs are versus what we believe our entitlements are. There has been a trend where wants become needs and then those needs become entitlements, and that is a destructive mindset,” said Horn.

One tool that will be used in the budgeting process is the Hunt County Salary Committee report.

“They have done an exemplary job conducting a comparative analysis and providing objective data,” said Horn “The report is also reflective of the current environment.”

“As leaders of the county we must understand where our priorities are and let them reflect in our expenditures.

“We can’t continue to balance the scale just to make everyone happy,” said Horn, emphasizing that elected officials and department heads will be faced with tough decisions.

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