Proposed Tax Increase For Wichita County

The 2011 budget for Wichita County is in the works, and residents could be facing a tax increase.  Monday night, County Commissioners heard your comments and concerns on the matter which is being tied to the continuing problem of an overcrowded county jail.  At the County Commissioners Court meeting Monday morning, Commissioners voted to authorize a contract allowing the transfer of inmates from the Wichita County Jail to Cooke County, the fifth location for excess inmates.  Transporting them back and forth is ultimately what's costing tax payers.

During the last fiscal year, deputies and jailers in the sheriff's office had logged about $1 million dollars in overtime, most of it while transferring inmates to other counties.  So county officials had the jail commission do a study to find out what could be done.

"There was no way we were going to cut down on the amount of overtime being paid without having more people on the payroll," said Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom.

So the proposed 2011 budget is doing just that.  Officials are planning to hire 22 new full-time jailers, along with allowing 180 part-time hours per week at the sheriff's office.  Gossom says the money needed for extra personnel will be coming from the proposed tax increase.

"Most people have been very positive about it.  They want people that are breaking the law put in jail, and they seem to be very willing to pay for that," he said.

The rate hike will be about four cents, meaning if you own a $100,000 home, you'll be paying about $40 extra a year to the county.  About half of the increase will pay new employees, and the rest will go to inmate transfers.

"The basic budget has stayed level, other than the additional personnel and putting the money in there to pay for housing prisoners in other counties," Gossom said.

The proposed tax hike comes even after multiple years of withholding raises from county employees.  But even that will need to be addressed soon, because rising health care costs mean employees aren't taking home as much anymore.

"Whether it's next year or a year later, at some place we're going to have to consider raises for employees," Gossom said.

Judge Gossom's question to county departments this year was 'Can you do more with less money?'  He also says the District Attorney's budget is the only item left that could possibly be cut before commissioners vote on the budget on August 16th.

Spencer Blake, Newschannel 6