GUEST VIEW: A letter from Judge Fawcett

Ector County Citizens,

I am proud to say that Ector County Commissioners Court has adopted the Fiscal Year 2024 Budget and Tax Rate! I want to be transparent with the public on what your elected county government officials have been working on this summer to put together what I would argue is the most impactful budget in Ector County history.

This year was different. As the budget officer for the county (according to Texas Local Government Code Chapter 111) the duty of putting together the budget falls on the shoulders of the County Judge. Historically, our Ector County Auditor is intimately involved in this process. As many folks know, we had to replace our auditor this year literally weeks before our first meetings began. Fortunately, we found a very experienced county auditor in Ellen Friar who has graciously served us on a part time and interim basis to help us through the process. We, as Ector County citizens, owe her a tremendous amount of gratitude for her help and guidance through this process.

With the help of Ellen, our team in my office, the 41 department heads and elected officials, and our four County Commissioners, we have crafted a bold and visionary plan for Ector County. We began this process first when I asked our department heads and elected officials to author 5-year strategic plans. Following that and based on those plans, we hosted one-on-one budget meetings with an assigned Commissioner and myself with the various department heads and elected officials to go line-by-line through their budgets. This process took two weeks of in-depth analysis. Following those meetings, we hosted a 4 day public meeting before the full court where we, as Commissioners Court, voted on each of the departments one-by-one.

Ultimately, our goal was simple. With efficient and effective government as our thesis, our goal was to identify points throughout the county where we were hemorrhaging money or lacking in public services. The most glaring is the $25 million expansion at our jail that is being underutilized. We have over 400 beds sitting empty yet we are sending inmates to other counties at a cost of well over $30,000 per month, all because we have a jailer shortage. We saw in Midland where they had the exact same problem, proposed a pay increase, and saw that problem solved. While increasing pay is not always the solution for every problem, in this instance it seemed a solid model to emulate.

This was our number one priority this budget. Not only did we get our jailers a 20% raise, but we also provided raises to all law enforcement officers in the county. Alongside the 60 jailers that we are short, we are have vacancies of more than a dozen officers on the street. I found this inexcusable when I took office. As a county that prides itself in “backing the blue”, we simply were doing the opposite-until this year’s budget.

Other strategic raised include a County Grant Writer who will work on identifying and applying for readily available grants. We anticipate this position will bring in significant funds through the numerous state and federal grants that we simply do not have the capacity currently to go after. Additionally, we will be hiring bolstered staff in our building and maintenance department to get us on a pathway away from reactive maintenance and head towards preventative/proactive maintenance. Other positions that will benefit the public in terms of time will be three additional positions in our vehicle registration department underneath Lindy Wright, our Tax Assessor- Collector.

Budget by the Numbers

While our budget contains dozens of individual accounts, a majority of our funds are in the two main accounts of General Fund and Sales Tax Fund. For this year in General Fund, our expenditures will total $72,393,072. This amount is 2.5% more than the previous year’s expenditures, which totaled about $69.5 million. This rate of growth is healthy and on par or less than previous budgets the past 8 years.

When it comes to our Sales Tax Fund, our expenditures for the budget we inherited for Fiscal Year 2023 are at $48.3 million- while in the budget we passed Tuesday for Fiscal Year 2024, we reduced those expenditures to $40,705,935. This means a decrease in Sales Tax expenditures of $7.6 million or 15.8%.

The challenge with this budget was the trend we were facing in our Sales Tax Fund. The past two years we have been generating approximately $33 million in sales tax revenue. As you can read above, our expenditures were significantly more than our revenues. In full transparency, this is somewhat misleading because this is just the budgeted portion, not actual expenditures because we rarely fill all budgeted positions and some projects take multiple years to actually fund.

I, nor our County Auditor Ms. Friar, felt like this was a positive trend in funding our county government. I am proud that we found ways to close the gap on our budget and find a way to put us on a projected pathway to economic success.

Tax Rate by the Numbers

This year we left the Ector County Tax Rate unchanged at $0.35000 per $100 valuation. Taxable Value in Ector County according to the Ector County Appraisal District rose from $17.291 billion to $20.475 billion. This means that we are going to levy over 18% more revenue than last year. This caused a bit of concern amongst the Commissioners, and I appreciate their concern.

Historically, taxable value increasing in a county is due to Home Taxable Value increasing. Thus, that increase in revenue would have been on the backs of homeowners. Has this been the case, I would not have been in favor of leaving the tax rate the same and levying more funds at such a rate.

However, this year, Average Home Taxable Value for Ector County went down from $181,580 in 2022 to $164,133 in 2023. This means that by leaving the tax rate unchanged from last year, the average homeowner will see a tax decrease this year.

The reason for the over $3 billion in taxable value increase is largely due to Mineral Property (oil and gas), Utility Personal Property (railroads, pipelines, etc.), and new homes coming onto the market.

It is for this reason that a majority of Commissioners Court voted to keep the tax rate at $0.35000 rather than either raising it or lowering it this year.

Moving Forward

I am proud of what our team here at Ector County has accomplished and I hope you, as a citizen of our great community, are too. If you ever have any questions or comments on our budget, tax rate, or county functions in general, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I hope you feel as confident as we do that we are now on a positive trajectory with a strategic plan for effective and efficient governance. We plan to always be fiscally responsible with your tax dollars. Stay tuned for more exciting news as we continue the hard work on a new library, courthouse, and other work to better serve you, the taxpayers.

God Bless Ector County,

Dustin Fawcett

Ector County Judge