Willacy property tax collections lag

RAYMONDVILLE — Willacy County commissioners will review their $7.3 million general fund budget, more than five months after cutting 25 positions in the wake of the Willacy County Correctional Center’s closure.

Commissioners will meet today and tomorrow to discuss revenues and expenditures from October to December, Commissioner Eduardo Gonzales said yesterday.

Gonzales said concerns include the county’s sluggish property tax collection.

So far, the property tax collection is behind 7.4 percent, or about $275,000, Tax Assessor-Collector Elizabeth Barnhart said.

Gonzales said commissioners will consider taking action to try to offset any revenue loss.

“If it’s down, should we tighten our budget a little more?” Gonzales asked, referring to the county’s tax collection.

In February, Barnhart said, the county’s property tax collection rate usually is down from 1 to 3 percent.

But this year, she said, she blames residents who spent their money at eight-liner arcades.

“Instead of paying their taxes, they gambled it away,” Barnhart said.

Barnhart said many residents likely are waiting to receive their income tax refunds to pay their property taxes.

Last October, commissioners entered the current fiscal year after eliminating 25 positions, forcing 16 layoffs.

The prison’s closure slashed a third of the local budget, plunging the county into a financial crisis as commissioners tried to offset a $220,000 monthly shortfall.

“We want to know our revenues, especially for the first quarter,” Gonzales said. “We’re trying to make sure we’re on track.”

Commissioners are counting on the prison’s business interruption insurance for revenue, Gonzales said.

Last year, the prison’s insurance policy paid the county $449,000 in business interruption insurance to help offset revenue losses.

But officials have not determined whether the insurance policy would make further payments.

“We’re 75-percent sure we’re getting additional revenue,” Gonzales said. “But we don’t know the amount.”

County Judge Aurelio Guerra has warned without further insurance payments the county could face a “worst-case scenario.”

Without the insurance money, Guerra said, commissioners may have to cut as much as “a few hundred thousand dollars” off next year’s general fund budget.

“I don’t know how much more of a blow we can take,” Gonzales said.

Guerra said business interruption insurance reimburses revenue losses for a period of up to a year.