Citizens gathered to discuss the proposed 2021 tax rate, among other items of business at the Tuesday special meeting of the Hopkins County commissioner’s court.
After opening at 9 a.m. with an invocation, the court unanimously approved four leases from Farmer’s Electric Co-Op to install power lines before moving on to public comment at 9:04 a.m.
Citizen Jerry Lamb spoke to the court regarding what he felt were disparities of living standards existing in Hopkins County and the role the court could play in combating them.
Lamb stated he was concerned that the county would take in over $366,000 in new property tax in the 2021 fiscal year, especially given the living conditions he had witnessed in the county. Lamb said that nearby properties to him with acreage had sold for between $500,000 to $600,000 to those migrating in from out-of-state from the west and east coast.
“They make windfall profits on their investments of almost a million dollars,” Lamb said. “They retire and flee the cities because for whatever reason they can no longer tolerate the situation there.”
However, Lamb also said that another property near to his on only approximately three to four acres.
“They have nothing,” he said. “They’re busted, broken down… they have it the hardest. A small area was cleared and a tent appeared. People are living in tents. A second tent, then a third tent appeared, then a small travel trailer and several old travel trailers. The area now looks like a homeless encampment.”
Lamb said that while Hopkins County encompasses this diverse range of income levels, property taxes remain disproportionately skewed to account for those who can afford to pay them. Lamb said he believes these individuals are not from Hopkins County.
“The properties around me belong to the same families who have owned them for hundreds of years,” Lamb said. “But they can no longer afford the property taxes.”
Lamb also expressed concern that while the operating budget for the county was over $13.5 million in 2021, the reserve budget was approximately $4 million-- less than half the total.
“Shouldn’t there be at least six months for when the pendulum swings the other way?” Lamb asked.
Lamb’s proposed solution was a step-based pay raise for county officials. According to county auditor Shannah Aulsbrook and county judge Robert Newsom, for the past 50 years all county staff have made the same salary, with the exception of the Sheriff. The sheriff is paid sightly more, which is grouped under a category called “certificate pay,” based on the sheriff’s role as a certified peace officer. Over the years, the amount the county officials have been paid has increased, Newsom said, but the fact that they are all paid the same wage has not.
Lamb stated he felt comfortable with the Sheriff position being paid more as it is the nature of the job to “put your life on the line,” but otherwise believed the positions should be paid in a graduated nature based on years of experience.
The court thanked Lamb for his comments.
The court also heard from citizen Luanda Kent, who stated she believed not enough attention was being given to roads county roads 1172, 1171, 1181 and 1180 and that one cannot “go over ten miles per hour or you will totally wreck your car.”
Kent also stated she believed Miller Grove ISD’s tax rate was too high as they “had two of everything and they’re not a very big school.”
Pct. Commissioner Mickey Barker, who serves Kent’s area, informed her that all the roads she named were slated for repair in the 2021 season.
The court unanimously approved the following:
- Placement of a vending machine at the Hopkins County Civic Center, with proceeds benefiting the Hopkins County Law Enforcement Association
- The lease of three Chevrolet Tahoes for the Hopkins County Sheriff’s Office
- Report from FEMA grant writer Beth Wiesenbaker about receiving of CARES Act monies
- Contract with Chronos SAASHR payroll software to be able to update timecards
- Disposal of expired air cylinders from Hopkins County fire station 20, for which station 20 received $6 from the recycling plant
With no further business, the court was adjourned at 9:38 p.m.