The third time may be the charm for Ector County, which has once again voted to hold a special election in November to levy a county sales tax outside city limits.
Approved unanimously by commissioners on Monday, the proposal would create an assistance district in all of Ector County outside the city limits of Odessa and Goldsmith. This district would be levied an additional sales tax of 1.25 cents per dollar, should voters approve the proposal.
Only those who live in the district will be eligible to vote on the creation of the district. Odessa and Goldsmith residents already pay sales taxes to the cities. Ector County currently has no sales tax at all, relying only on property taxes and fees.
County officials estimate the sales tax would raise around $15 million a year, more than a quarter of the county’s $59 million expenditure budget.
Former County Judge Ron Eckert led the charge for all three elections being held, but he’s not the county’s top administrator anymore. Just minutes after approving the special election, Eckert resigned from his office prior to beginning work with an oil and gas service company, and Debi Hays was approved as his successor.
Hays said she is absolutely in support of the initiative, and said after her appointment that the sales tax funds from the assistance district could help to pay for fixing up damaged county roadways and other problems affecting the lives of Ector County residents.
“If you took the populations in Gardendale and West Odessa, and south Odessa, that population exceeds probably 125,000, 150,000 people, and with the boom going on, there are people that are moving in everyday,” Hays said. So we have to give those individuals the needs that they deserve.”
Hays said that looking for ways the county can communicate with residents about the new sales tax initiative and what it means is her second biggest priority next to drafting a budget for the next fiscal year.
This is the third time county commissioners have approved holding an election for the district. The first time the election was held, county residents voted heavily against the imposition of the tax, with 992 votes against it, nearly double the 561 votes in favor of the tax.
The second time county commissioners approved an election for the district, it never happened. It slated for May, but the commissioners’ court was forced to repeal the election after it was discovered that state law prohibits counties from calling special elections on the first Saturday in May in even-numbered years.
Currently, the Ector County Hospital District is the only entity collecting sales tax revenue outside city limits, $0.75 per dollar. Eckert previously said, should the sales tax proposal pass, it would be about the same amount of tax residents already pay when shopping in city limits.
If approved, the county could receive their first sales tax revenue check from the state by June 2019, which would go into a fund separate from the county’s general fund to be used only for projects or services in that district.
There are limits to the funds generated from the district. State statues only allow the funds to be used for economic development, law enforcement and detention services, tourism, roads and highways, firefighting and fire prevention, libraries, museums, parks, recreational facilities and services that benefit the public welfare.