Hidalgo County’s proposed budget has $3.3M shortfall

The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court continues to refine its 2020 fiscal year budget, which may require more than $3 million from the rainy day fund to balance.

But it’s not all gloom and doom, county officials said, as the budget office is working with conservative figures and expects an additional $7.5 million to trickle in during the upcoming fiscal year.

The county began its budgeting process in late July and has since held six workshops. In early August, commissioners initially projected a budget need of almost $223 million. But with only projected revenue of about $212 million, commissioners were anticipating an $11 million shortfall.

Those figures have since changed because the county tightened its fiduciary belt and the auditor’s office updated its projected revenue information.

During workshop No. 6, officials proposed a general fund budget of about $219 million and projected revenues at more than $215 million. Those figures would leave the county with an estimated $3.3 million shortfall.

That shortfall, however, could widen to about $3.6 million, if elected officials approve the hiring of additional constable deputies.

Commissioner David Fuentes has been advocating for an additional deputy for the newly reinstated Precinct 5 Constable’s office.

“My issue over at Precinct 5 is that they have three deputies. One is out on FMLA (family leave). He’s got two people, and he’s got hundreds of square miles to cover, plus the illegal dumping, plus all the other patrolling that they do,” Fuentes said last month about Constable Daniel Marichalar’s office. “One guy gets sick and you’re down to one person. You can’t run that department with three people. It just doesn’t work. That’s why I’m asking for an extra person.”

But Precinct 5 isn’t the only constable’s office asking for additional personnel. In fact, constables from Precincts 2, 3 and 4 had initially asked for two additional deputies. Now, they’re hoping to get at least one.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Eddie Cantu said he was willing to go with budget option A, which would only fund one additional deputy, versus option B, which funds four.

Cantu has been pushing for a tax rate cut, but his colleagues appear apprehensive, with some pointing to a possible recession as a trade war with China continues. Cantu, however, noted that the county has been growing its annual revenue by about $6 million each year, or the equivalent of 2 cents of the tax rate.

“Since I’ve been here, our budget has increased 30 million to 40 million dollars,” he said. “Every year it’s increased like 2 pennies.”

Still, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez cautioned, if they cut the tax rate by 1 cent, for example, and then they realized the following year that they made a mistake, it would be difficult for them to go back to the original tax rate without triggering an election.

That’s a result of legislation passed during this year’s 86th Legislative Session.

“At that point then we would probably have to go through a rollback election because we would be exceeding the rollback (rate),” budget officer Sergio Cruz said. “Before it used to be 8%, now they cut it in half and it would make it a lot more difficult (to raise the rate).”

Cutting the tax rate, which is currently at 58 cents per $100 valuation, would also create a bigger shortfall and force the county to dip even further into its rainy day fund. But if commissioners keep the same rate, the county will have about $32.6 million in the fund balance, or 15% of the general fund.

Commissioners have until the end of the month to adopt the 2020 fiscal year budget, which begins Jan. 1 and ends Dec. 31.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the Precinct 5 Constable.