After a contentious 45-minute hearing with Brownwood citizen Joe Cooksey addressing the court, Brown County Commissioners approved and adopted the 2010 budget on Monday.
The court will also meet at 9 a.m. today in the commissioners’ courtroom in the Brown County Courthouse to adopt a tax rate. The county’s fiscal year begins Monday, and will run through Sept. 30, 2010.
The approved budget shows an anticipated $14,636,301 in receipts and expenditures. According to a memorandum submitted to the court by Brown County Judge Ray West, “approximately 70 percent of the receipts will be realized through a proposed ad valorem tax of .5227 per $100 assessed valuation. The remainder of the receipts will come from other local sources, fund balances and state payments.”
According to the agenda posted on Thursday, the court would convene at 9 a.m. to “1. Adopt budget” and “2. Approve budget with tax increase.” But a business agenda was also posted for 9 a.m., and the court met in an hour-and-a-half session on the business matters, recessed for 15 minutes and reconvened for the second meeting, concerning the budget, at 11:45 a.m.
Cooksey, with an armload of notebooks which he would later refer to as “documents out the wazoo,” took a seat at the table in front of the courtroom and said that the “public hearing as required by law is not on the agenda.”
After a terse but polite exchange between West and Cooksey, West said, “OK, we’re going to proceed. If you have any questions about the budget, you may ask them.”
For the next more than half-hour, Cooksey charged that he had found discrepancies in audits from 2007 and ’08 in comparison to the proposed budget of ’09. County auditor Nina Cox said Cooksey was comparing working documents to actual figures, and that the numbers would change.
At one point, West said, “Mr. Cooksey, we’re here to adopt a budget,” adding questions should be specific, to which Cooksey answered, “There are figures and numbers in a public hearing I’m allowed to make.”
In an exchange following shortly after, West told Cooksey he “would have him removed from this courtroom” unless questions could be made specifically about the budget and numbers.
Cooksey continued, citing court cases and other counties’ practices. He said there were discrepancies in elected officials’ posted salaries, which West said, in his own case, appear that way because part of his pay was from the state, and part from the county. Cooksey also said, according to his research, County Attorney Shane Britton received a $15,000 raise last year and asked if he would receive that same raise this year.
“Well, we didn’t decrease his salary, if that’s what you’re asking,” West said.
Cooksey said that the money in the county attorney donation fund, which is fee collections above and beyond the fine and court costs for DWI cannot exceed $500 per defendant. On numerous occasions, Cooksey said, those fees have been as high as $750, and the county runs the risk of having to return “thousands of dollars.” Cooksey also said that money could not be used for Britton’s salary.
Of the several issues raised, West said he would look into the “donation fee,” but for several argued points, he said, “we will agree to disagree.” Finally, West said that Cooksey’s charges that moneys were unaccounted for was wrong.
“The money may all commingle, but that doesn’t mean that is isn’t accounted for in the budget,” West said.