In a perfect world, Oldham County Judge Don R. Allred would have the financial means to create and fully support a county plan to match the needs and personality of his community. For example, Allred would upgrade oft-used facilities that house area stock shows and rodeos, two favorite local pastimes.
He would help pay expenses for volunteers who deliver for the Meals on Wheels Program, which Allred runs out of the judge’s office. And Allred would, of course, upgrade the local roads for the betterment of all.
“I would love to be able to spend more money on discretionary items,” Allred said.
While some counties are planning million-dollar projects, placing new roofs on worn-out buildings, and penciling in upgrades to outdated systems, Allred has no choice but to take a different approach when it comes to budgeting.
“A million-dollar building would take our tax for the entire year,” Allred said. Oldham County’s current estimated value sits at some $148 million, generating a tax income of less than $1 million.
“We’re basically in a maintain mode,” Allred said, “trying to maintain what we already have and keep our doors open.
“There’s nothing to tax, and there are no other ways to generate revenue,” he continued.
The Property Tax
The property tax, or ad valorem tax, is inarguably the largest revenue source for Texas counties. In Oldham County, the property tax represents approximately 50 percent of the income stream.
According to the Texas Constitution, Article VIII, Section 9, the county cannot levy a tax rate in excess of $.80 per $100 of property value for the county’s general fund, permanent improvement fund, road and bridge fund and jury fund.
The county is authorized to levy a $.15 road and bridge tax and a $.30 farm-to-market road/flood control tax; however, these taxes are subject to voter approval. In addition, counties on the Gulf of Mexico can levy a special tax for construction of sea walls, breakwaters, or sanitary purposes, not to exceed $.50 per $100 valuation.
Counties are also authorized by several statutes to levy certain special purpose taxes. However, these taxes when combined with the general fund tax may not total more than $.80 per $100 assessed valuation.
Property tax rates across the state are as varied as the counties themselves, with some counties hovering in the 20- to 30-cent range and others approaching or even reaching the maximum.
Oldham County has been flirting with the maximum rate off and on for years and currently sits at a rate of 75 cents.
“We’re trying to work very hard to reduce the burden on the local property tax owner,” Allred said.
Even counties that have not approached the maximum rate are guarded when it comes to tapping the tax, the largest source of funding for all local services. Other taxing units include school districts, cities, and special districts such as hospital, utility, flood control and rural fire districts, along with rural colleges.
According to the latest Property Tax Report published by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, in the tax year 2006, 3,758 taxing units levied $35.5 billion in property taxes. The county’s share, some $5.3 billion, represented only 14.9 percent of the total property tax, with the school districts claiming 58.8 percent.
While county officials statewide are well aware of the overburdened property tax