By Lauren Cabral

Killeen Daily Herald

GATESVILLE - During a special meeting Monday, the Coryell County Commissioners Court approved a new 90-day burn ban and reviewed the county's financial state.

The court previously suspended a 90-day burn ban, passed May 9, for two weeks after the county received some rainfall. That suspension expired Monday.

Commissioner Don Jones made a motion, which was unanimously approved, to pass another 90-day burn ban, effective Monday. The ban will run until Sept. 3.

Jones said he meant for the ban not to include the clause present in the county's last ban that allowed controlled burns for agricultural purposes upon approval of Fire Marshal Billy Vaden or the Coryell County Sheriff's Office.

Vaden told the court the suspension had gone well until late last week, when several controlled burns got out of hand.

"We have had a dozen calls since Thursday to go to controlled burns that have gotten out of control," Vaden said.

Budget workshop

The court also had a budget development workshop, at which County Judge John Firth explained the county was on track to spend $600,000 less than it budgeted by the end of fiscal year 2011, if no unexpected expenses came about.

With five months left in the fiscal year, total revenue is up about 1 percent above projections, and expenditures are about 4 percent below budgeted levels for the general fund expense items, Firth said.

If those trends continue, the county should be able to maintain a 25 percent reserve at the end of the fiscal year.

Several factors contributed to the under-budget expenditures. Firth said the county had budgeted $700,000 for transporting inmates to out-of-county jails when the Coryell County Jail reached capacity, based on fiscal year 2010's expenditures. So far, the county should spend approximately $225,000 in out-of-county costs.

In a budget summary composed by Firth, he said the county had an expected increase in budget tax revenue of about $270,000 in property tax and $70,000 in sales tax. Combined with the decrease in out-of-county prisoner costs and not having to budget $250,000 for a new fire truck for fiscal year 2012 as the county did in 2011, expenditures from this fiscal year will need to be decreased in order to assure the next fiscal year will end with an objective reserve level of 25 percent.

This must be done, he said, due to personnel costs for employees, especially medical insurance, which is likely to increase in the future.

Rising fuel costs, possible increases in court-appointed attorneys and other court costs, and jail maintenance and repair costs add to that challenge, as would additional unfunded mandates from the Texas Legislature.

County officials weighed in on what their departments could need in the future, and made suggestions on how to increase the county's income.

Commissioner Jack Wall said adding a county tax to cities' hotel/motel taxes could be an option.

County Attorney Brandon Belt suggested hiring a warrant officer to begin serving the 118,000

warrants that remain unserved since 2004, many for hot checks, as a way to increase county funds.

Firth also announced public hearings in Gatesville and Copperas Cove on June 28 concerning redistricting plans. The meeting in Gatesville will be at 5 p.m. in the commissioner's courtroom of the Gatesville Annex, and the Copperas Cove meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. in the Copperas Cove Public Library.

Contact Lauren Cabral at or (254) 501-7476.

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