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Hidalgo County Commissioners Court adopted the 2014 County Budget at its regular meeting held on Tuesday, September 24, 2013. The Court also set the 2013 Hidalgo County Ad Valorem Tax Rate at $0.59 per $100 of taxable value; the County has kept taxes at the same rate for over ten years.
With the County still recovering from the recent recession, estimated revenues for this year totaled approximately $166.3 million. At the beginning of this year’s budget process, the County initially faced a $21 million shortfall, due to obligatory increases in expenditures including the contribution to the medical school, the cost for the 1115 waiver, increases in health insurance and workers’ compensation rates, and salary increases for the judiciary as approved by the Texas legislature. Over the course of several weeks and various workshops, the Budget Office, under the direction of Commissioners Court, worked diligently to trim the budget as much as possible with mandatory reductions in departmental operating budgets and a decrease in aid to outside governmental agencies, among others.
The total approved budget is $245.2 million, consisting of the general fund budget of $178.0 million; $24.5 million for special revenue funded departments and functions; $20.3 million for debt service (principal and interest); and $22.4 million for enterprise funds (employee health benefits, workers’ compensation and the jail commissary).
The 2014 general fund budget totals $178.0 million for maintenance in operations, and includes a three percent across-the-board budget cut to all general fund departments, and a 25% reduction in aid to outside governmental agencies, among other reductions. Even with the budget reductions, the County was faced an $11.7 million shortfall; Commissioners Court ultimately decided to appropriate the difference from general fund reserves, leaving the projected fund balance at the beginning of 2014 at approximately $11.4 million, or six percent of the 2014 budget, based on conservative estimates.
Court members emphatically stressed the need to tighten the County’s purse strings, directing Budget Officer Sergio Cruz to examine and implement methods to reduce expenditures throughout the year. Further expressing a desire to rein in spending, at today’s meeting the Court also denied a grievance committee’s recommendation to approve salary increases for justices of the peace, and encouraged standing similar ground for any budget or salary increase requests throughout the year. Cruz advised the Court that his office also plans to implement strategies that would replenish the fund balance to an expectant rate of 12%, which is considerably healthier than the conservative estimate.
Overall, the approved budget allows for County operations and services to continue meeting the needs of Hidalgo County residents, with no impact on the taxpayer and minimal impact on employees. Moving forward, County leaders will strive to narrow the gap between revenues and expenditures to be in a better financial position in the upcoming year.