Over the next four days, the Collin County Commissioners Court will piece together the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget. As usual, there are a lot of moving parts and more requests than available dollars. With a puzzle like this, we have to start with the big picture; only then can we reverse engineer the end product and start lining up all the squares. That means we can’t begin without first establishing a target. My bottom line: The county’s general budget—the operating budget for our various departments—should not exceed $205.6 million. The county’s combined budget—including all other expenditures like payments on our outstanding debts—should not exceed $345.5 million. These budget figures represent an increase of 5 percent to account for population growth plus inflation. It’s growth that makes sense for our rapidly growing population. And I believe that we can meet every duty and every need within these numbers. I am more optimistic going into the workshop than I have been in several years. Those are my own bottom line numbers and do not include the $38 million from surplus that we will apply to major highway planning in lieu of a bond election this year. When the final, official budget is approved, that $38 million will be added. It will appear as an increase over last year’s budget, but it is one-time spending that does not come from current tax dollars. Using the surplus for highway planning—instead of issuing bonds—will save us approximately $15 million in interest payments over twenty years. Also, our increase in compensation will be larger than usual this year as we maintain our “middle-of-the-range” policy. And I plan to recommend the development of an expanded wellness program to improve the overall physical health of our county employees. The commissioners court budget workshop starts at 2:30 PM, Monday, August 14. In the first few hours we will discuss major additions to the base budget. You can join us via video streaming at http://www.collincountytx.gov/government/Pages/video.aspx.