The Brazos County Commissioners Court held a budget workshop session Thursday afternoon centered around the estimated $5.067 million in damage caused by hail storms in late May as the county’s governing body prepares to set its fiscal year 2021 budget amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
County Judge Duane Peters said the proposed budget likely will be available to media outlets and the public on Aug. 17 or 18. That is later than he hoped, but he explained that the appraisal district’s certified tabulations and other official numbers are still being put together.
“I had asked the departments and the elected officials to trim 10% out of their budgets from the operations side,” Peters said, a result of the myriad economic impacts of COVID-19.
Additionally, Peters said the hope is to keep the tax rate the same or slightly decrease it from the current rate. The FY 2020 budget is balanced at a tax rate of $0.4975 per $100 of valuation, a rate increase of about 7% from the FY 2019 rate of $0.4850 per $100 of valuation.
“As we have for a number of years, we’re going to be conservative, we’re going to try to keep that budget down. I know there’s a lot of struggles for businesses out there, and we want to make as minimal of an impact as we can — whether it’s homeowners or it’s businesses,” Peters said.
Brazos County Risk Manager Leslie Contreras spoke to the Commissioners Court about the extensive fiscal costs of damage caused by hail on May 27 and 28. Contreras said that the county’s detention center, sheriff’s office, juvenile center and the road and bridge department were among the county facilities that sustained roof damage and other issues.
The current total damage estimate, Contreras said, is $5,066,574.
“Just to give you a look at the magnitude, it affected about 60 buildings total,” Contreras told the commissioners. “Buildings can range from a small pavilion up to the Brazos County Detention Center.”
Contreras said the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) has already sent Brazos County about $1 million, and with other depreciation factored in, the expected next payment to help with repairs is expected to be $2,898,476.
Contreras then explained that most of the hail damage was roof damage and that the county’s roofs largely need to be upgraded to prevent similar damage from happening again. Insurance will only pay for existing damages, not upgrades, she told the court.
“We were told that on some of the roofs that we have, if we would have had a higher hail rating, there wouldn’t have been any damage,” Contreras said.
Estimates are currently about $12 million to upgrade many of the essential facilities’ roofs, Contreras said to the five-person court. She noted that the TAC gives counties two years from the date of occurrence to repair or replace the damages, though extensions are possible, she said. Hiring a consultant is also recommended, Contreras said.
“This could be a significant impact on the budget,” Peters said. “We’ll be doing something on the Commissioners Court here in the next few weeks, I think, to probably issue some debt to take care of not only this, but also a lot of the capital projects that we’ve got scheduled to try and take care of — whether it’s roads or the Precinct 1 [Justice of the Peace / Constable office building].”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Chuck Konderla said during the workshop that he hopes to see the contracted work split up into smaller sub-claims, as bidding statutes allow, to give local businesses more opportunities to compete in the bidding process and, he hopes, ultimately be chosen to do the work of repairing and replacing, as long as their bids are competitive.
“They are paying county taxes, and where the tax money could potentially be allocated to use their services — I’d like to see that happen. It’s only poetic and correct that it does when possible,” Konderla told The Eagle after the workshop. “I’d like local companies to employ local people to fix local problems, that they have paid for with their tax dollar.”
The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
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