County proposes same tax rate

Higher appraisals will mean higher taxes; hospitals still waiting on financial help

Ector County commissioners are proposing to maintain the current property tax of .365 for fiscal year 2021-22. The decision could increase or decrease overall property tax revenues based on whether property and mineral rates are higher or lower, Judge Debi Hays said Tuesday. Many homeowners, however, have reported a higher appraisal this year.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the proposed property tax rate during their Sept. 28 meeting.

“We’re trying to be very responsible in the budgeting process,” Hays said following the commissioners’ Tuesday meeting. “We don’t want to be a burden on taxpayers.”

Hays said it’s difficult to estimate how much property tax revenue will be collected during the 2021-22 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, because property values are constantly fluctuating.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Simmons said the county also expects sales tax revenue to increase significantly during the upcoming fiscal year, which would offset any shortfall from property taxes.

Hays said the county is predicting it will collect between $18-19 million in sales tax in 2021-22. That prediction is based on the $18.5 million collected in 2020, she said. The county so far this year has collected $15 million.

Commissioners voted to table a proposed policy that would grant paid quarantine leave for peace officers and detention officers employed by the county.

Commissioners debated the issue for several minutes before agreeing that more information was needed before a vote is taken.

Simmons expressed concern over what steps would be implemented to make sure the policy isn’t abused.

For example, Simmons said he didn’t want employees “coming in every 2 weeks and saying they are infected with COVID.”

He also was concerned that “if you have an outbreak in jail, you can’t just shut down the entire jail.”

Hays and several county administrators said it was their belief that the proposed policy would apply to only those employees who tested positive, and not to anyone who just claimed they might have COVID or any other infectious disease.

In addition to paying an employee’s salary while infected, the proposed policy would also require the county to pick up the tab for employees that have to be quarantined.

Several county commissioners wanted to know where the county would get the money to pay for such a policy. County administrators were directed to study the issue further and return with more details at a later date.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Simmons said commissioners have not yet discussed when or if they will consider a request by Medical Center Hospital for American Recovery Plan Act funds granted to the county.

MCH President and CEO Russell Tippin has said funds are needed to help them hire more nursing staff to care for COVID-19 patients.

Tippin and Odessa Regional Medical Center President Stacey Brown have said their hospitals are both struggling with a severe nursing shortage at a time when COVID numbers have increased locally.

MCH has asked Odessa City Council for $4 million in ARPA funds and ORMC has asked for $2,592,000.