Smith County’s second budget workshop makes tweaks

The Smith County draft budget for fiscal year 2022 made changes, including funds for polling software to facilitate voting.

The Smith County Commissioners Court met on July 27, 2021 to discuss the draft budget for fiscal year 2022. 

Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran said there have been some changes to the draft budget since the first workshop on June 22, reported by The Tyler Loop.

The Elections Office budget was one area of change. Moran said when Michelle Allcon, the interim elections administrator, came on board, the budget had already been submitted by the prior administrator.

“I have asked her to take a look at that budget and see if we need to make any changes.” Allcon told the court that most of the election equipment and software work “just fine,” but the hardware for the poll book – where voters check in, verify ID and voter registration – is “problematic,” with multiple pieces and continued breakage. 

She anticipates a capital expenditure of $130,000 to purchase a new poll book from Election Systems & Software (ES&S), the same vendor for the county’s other election equipment. The new equipment will make poll setup easier as workers will have to connect only two pieces of equipment, as opposed to seven.

The purchase will also enhance connectivity at the polls as all poll equipment will now be ES&S devices and have a standard interface.

Moran clarified for the court that years ago when election equipment was first purchased, ES&S did not offer a poll book device and the county had to purchase it from another vendor. 

“We have found over time that having two vendors trying to marry their software became difficult,” Moran said. “In order to streamline and assure accuracy in our poll books – who should be voting, and who has voted – we feel like this is a good step to take.” 

The expenditure will not affect the general fund but will be reflected in the capital improvement account.

In response to a question from Precinct 3 Commissioner Terry Phillips, Allcon indicated the county would use HAVA (Help America Vote Act) security funds for pre-paid maintenance on equipment purchased last year with those funds.

Other line items in the elections budget such as temporary worker salaries and office furniture, will see a slight increase.

Precinct 1 Constable Curtis Harris again asked the court to consider his budget requests for an additional vehicle and adding a full time deputy. Harris’ requests were denied, and he was urged to be more efficient in managing the resources he has.

Additionally, Moran indicated that another $1 million has been transferred from the general fund reserve to the capital improvement fund to pay for the Road and Bridge Project, leaving the reserve ratio at 29%. 

$500,000 has been allocated from the Road and Bridge reserves to fund construction of a fuel island. Ultimately, the $500,000 will come from the savings resulting from the TXDOT right-of-way contracts with Smith County. 

The reclassification of a Road and Bridge executive assistant position to an office manager position is a budget neutral item.

Moran said he recently learned the total Smith County appraisal value is $125 million less than anticipated and results in a $225,000 negative revenue impact. This will necessitate using $1.25 million, instead of $850,000 originally projected, from county reserves to meet the proposed budget with the increased salaries. 

“We also received information yesterday that requires our retirement contribution to go up about $400,000 which impacted (the increase in reserve fund use).” Auditor Ann Wilson said the retirement funding ratio is still good, and the increase in contribution was due primarily because of investment losses due to COVID-19.

Moran made no mention of Precinct 4 Commissioner JoAnn Hampton’s request to reconsider the line-item allocation to the Andrews Center. When asked, Hampton said the county would use American Rescue Plan Act funds to address mental health issues.

Near the end of the meeting, Moran said, “There is still work to be done. You guys can see when I file the budget August 13th what changes occur from here to there.”  

The line-item budget for FY22 will be available to the public when it is filed. Formal public hearings for budget and proposed tax rate are scheduled on August 24 at 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. On September 7th the Commissioner’s Court will vote on the proposed budget and tax rate. With approval, the budget goes into effect on October 1, 2021.

Following an executive session, the court reconvened and authorized a professional services exemption and engagement agreement with HackerStephens LLP for litigation relating to Case No. 1:21-cv-616, Whole Woman’s Health v. Austin Reeve Jackson, et al.

Brenda McWilliams is retired after nearly 40 years in education and counseling. When not traveling she fills her days with community, charitable, and civic work; photography; writing and blogging at Pilgrim Seeker Heretic; reading, babysitting grandchildren, and visiting with friends. She enjoys walking at Rose Rudman or hiking at Tyler State Park. Brenda and her spouse, Lou Anne Smoot, the author of Out: A Courageous Woman’s Journey, have six children and seven grandchildren between them.

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