Tuesday, August 23, 2011

County approves redistricting plan

Commissioners propose same tax rate as 2011

August 22, 2011 9:51 PM

The Ector County Commissioners Court showed Monday you can’t make everyone happy all of the time, but you can still get a unanimous vote.

Commissioners voted on revised redistricting plans for the county in response to objections raised by Commissioner Armando Rodriguez July 18 at what was supposed to be the redistricting task force’s final public hearing on the first map. Following a process that began in April, Rodriguez raised objections at that hearing about the distribution of minority voters.

Commissioners approved the new Plan A redistricting map, despite Rodriguez’s objections about minority distribution.

Rodriguez said some of the people who approached him did not believe minorities were represented well enough in Precinct 3, which caused quite a stir in previous redistricting meetings and was also the vehicle for the creation of a third map plan.

Rodriguez helped create Plan C with the county demographer, a plan that was sent to commissioners Wednesday.

That plan drew no support when Rodriguez made a motion to approve it, and commissioners instead approved Plan A, with Rodriguez voting for the plan as well.

Rodriguez said he wouldn’t be able to change the minds of the other commissioners, so he voted for it, despite his problems with the plan.

Plan A moves a total of 1,197 people of precinct 102, who will not be able to vote in the next election. Plan C would have moved more than 15,000 people from multiple precincts. Plan B, developed at the same time as Plan A, would also have moved more than 13,000 people.

Redistricting is necessitated by demographic changes measured by the U.S. census each decade. According to federal guidelines, to ensure each person’s vote has the same weight, the difference in population between the smallest and largest district can’t be more than 10 percent.

If some things are changing, others are likely to stay the same.

Ector County commissioners voted to propose a tax rate identical to last year, but a faint hope exists that it could be reduced after public hearings.

“There’s still a chance we can find a reduction in the rate,” Commissioner Greg Simmons said. “Had it not been for the (information technology costs), I would say we would have been in a position to lower the tax rate a little bit.”

But he said despite some hope, it’s not likely commissioners will be able to lower the tax rate. As proposed, the steady tax rate will actually increase taxes in the county because of a 5 percent appraised property value increase.

If the tax rate were lowered now, Simmons said it could end up causing commissioners to take too much out of the reserve fund. The proposed budget already is taking almost $3 million from the $8.7 million fund balance to cover costs, despite an increase in revenue.

Simmons said commissioners did not want to issue debt for the IT project as they have for past projects, and is hoping the county can spend less than it budgets and save that money for projects in the future.

Ector County Judge Susan Redford said she hopes taxpayers appreciate the work the court has done to cut the budget, including the trimming of an extra $500,000 in the past two weeks.

But she said she understands there may be some additional wants and needs addressed in the public hearings.

“We have a responsibility to the taxpayers to provide them with the best possible services we can,” Redford said. “But we do have to take into consideration that this is taxpayer money we are using and we have to look at what they want, too. It’s a difficult balancing act.”

She said the commissioners would have to take a look at reducing the tax rate if that’s what taxpayers want, but reinforced what Simmons said that the IT program would make that difficult, if not impossible.

IT renovations, which could cost the county as much as $10 million over the next five years, have been pegged as a necessity to overhaul aging hardware and connect systems throughout the entire county.

The meetings will take place at 10 a.m. Sept. 2 and 6 p.m. Sept. 6 at the Ector County Annex.


1 comment:

Faye said...

Good job. Now, I'm gonna wait for the other shoe to drop.