Houston County property values plummet, budget shortfalls follow

HOUSTON COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - By Morgan Thomas - bio | email

HOUSTON COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - In hard financial times for Texas, one of the state's smallest counties is preparing to make-do, like everyone else.

"The good thing about Houston County is we've never been a rich county anyway," said Commissioner Willie Kitchen, "we're accustomed to being conservative, so to speak."

Now money will have to be stretched even further. Property values have been on the rise since 1994. This year, they plummeted.

"We're talking a 104 million estimated decrease due to decreasing mineral values," said Houston County Judge Lonnie Hunt.

The county is preparing for what could be a $400,000 shortfall from last year.

"Realistically that's almost 10 percent reduction," said Hunt.

The summer will be anything but relaxing for the Houston County commissioners court. They'll be looking at expenditures line by line to find ways to get this county through a tough budget year.

Commissioner Kitchen says he'll be focused on one thing, "keeping services at their current levels for the citizens of Houston County."

Preserving county employees will also be a priority, but they shouldn't expect a raise.

"My biggest goal right now is how we can protect everybody's job," said Hunt.

Good news for many, thanks to cash the county put aside for a time like this.

"Kept there for circumstances such that we're in right now," said Kitchen.

Judge Hunt says this money will hold them over temporarily or maybe a year. If property values don't go up - there may only be one alternative.

"Raise the tax rate which nobody wants to do," said Hunt.

The county prides itself in having one of the lowest tax rates in East Texas. However, depending on rising property values may have put the county in it's current financial predicament.

Right now the county is working with estimates from the appraisal board. Official property values for the 2011 budget will be ready sometime in July.

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