Last April, County Judge Ron Eckert asked the county government’s naysayers to trust their county commissioners after presenting information on a sales tax proposal for areas of Ector County outside the city limits of Odessa and Goldsmith.
That message fell on deaf ears for those few who were in attendance, as the proposed sales tax initiative, which would have seen the county implement a sales tax rate of 1.25 cents per dollar, was voted down in the November election by nearly twice the amount of votes in favor of the tax, tallying 561 votes for and 992 votes against the proposal.
Soon after the results came in, Eckert announced he would not seek reelection, and may possibly step down before his term expires at the end of 2018. Eckert said he was disappointed in the result of the vote, citing a distrust of local government as one of the reasons it didn’t pass.
Without that sales tax, the county relies solely on property taxes and fees for revenue.
A similar situation occurred in August, when the commissioners held a public tax hearing for a proposed ad valorem tax increase of 6.5 percent, which also featured no feedback from the public before it was passed Sept. 5. The tax rate will now be $0.38721 per $100 valuation, as opposed to the previous tax rate of 37 cents per $100 valuation.
With the Fiscal Year 2018 budget passed about 15 positions were laid off as well in an attempt to balance the budget, but the budget passed still left about $8 million in the reserve fund.
“As you can tell, with the emergencies that we’ve had to the south of Texas and other places, we’re one emergency away — at that low of a reserve fund — from going bankrupt,” Eckert previously said.
The 2018 budget showed county expenditures were expected to total nearly $59 million, which Precinct 3 Commissioner Dale Childers previously said would mostly go toward law enforcement and courts.
One of the major projects the county was able to get underway in 2017 was the Ector County Law Enforcement Center’s expansion project. After approving a $25 million debt issuance in May, the county started taking bids for the planned expansion, agreeing to an $18.9 million contract with Cooper Construction in December, around $3.5 million lower than the estimated value after accounting for the costs of professional services, the bond issuance cost and other soft costs, JSA Architects Vice President Cruz R. Castillo said.
The expansion would provide an additional 60,000 square foot building to the ECLEC with 412 beds, and Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis said it should lower the $8,000 a day the county spends on keeping inmates in other county jails. Ector County currently has contracts with eight other counties to house inmates, As of Dec. 19, Ector County Sheriff’s Office Spokesman Sgt. Gary Duesler said the ECLEC has 560 inmates in their jail, along with 178 inmates being housed in six other counties.
Construction on the expansion is expected to begin in January, Griffis said, and will hopefully be completed in around 20 months.