County to Cancel Public Budget Workshops

By Gloria Roemer

Two county commissioners have confirmed to The Seabreeze Beacon that Chambers County will not hold public workshops for the discussion of its 2025 budget. In past years, the county held a series of public workshop hearings over the course of two months in the summer (July and August) for public discussion of the items the taxpayers will be paying for in 2025.
In the past, all elected officials and department heads would present a “wish list” to the county commissioners of their wants/needs for the department for the year following year. The wish list would include additional raises for certain employees, equipment, training, vehicles, etc. The elected officials/department heads would then present their requests to the court. They would then have to defend their requests to the commissioners. The commissioners would ask questions and since all these proceedings were done in a public budget workshop, any attendees (members of the public), could ask questions about the proposed budgets. A calendar was created where on a certain date, a time was designated for each county office to present its budget to the court. The county auditor would create a preliminary budget that would include just about everything the departments requested. Through the summer, the budget committee, outside of the public workshops, would meet and discuss the requests. then present the information in the public workshop
At the first budget workshop, the county auditor would present a summary of where the county stands financially and the debt that the county carries. Appraisal values (industrial and residential) and other revenue are considered into how much the county can spend the following year. And the auditor would also include all the requested increases by each department. The values that are proposed are the numbers the county uses in determining how much money the county can spend in 2025.
The county auditor also presents a summary of capital projects that are requested. Capital projects are always a huge financial consideration for the county. A list of projects is presented to the court for consideration. Salaries (payroll) are also a huge expense. Elected officials’ salaries are always of interest to the public. Each year, the county must publish a list of all the elected officials’ salaries and any “perks” that are paid for by the taxpayer such as vehicle allowance and cell phone allowance.
The road and bridge budget is also a high priority for the budget cycle as the county grows and the need for more roads and road maintenance becomes apparent. The Sheriff’s Office is the single largest budget item for the county. With increased growth in the county and the criminal element coming from Harris County and an open southern border, the sheriff’s office budget has grown to meet the demand for safety for our citizens.
As The Seabreeze Beacon covered last week, the county’s health services sale tax brings in over $12 million/year, and the citizens should have more say in how that money is distributed.
I have been told by members of the county’s administration that there will be one public hearing on the 2025 budget, possibly two hearings. I was told that there will be time set aside during commissioners’ court to discuss the budget, etc. It is not required by law to have more than one public hearing on the upcoming budget, but it sure was a positive sign of transparency and accountability to have open discussions and dialogues on how taxpayer money is being spent. Now, with not having public budget workshops, it gives the impression of “hiding” something.
With the county taking on additional debt of $175 million for the new jail/justice center, there is greater concern for how and where tax dollars are being spent.

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