Goals, Mission Statements Serve as Guideposts
By Julie Anderson
Legal document…approved expenditures…statement of revenue…expenses and fund balances
While these technical definitions of the county budget are certainly valid, the budget document embodies much more to Commissioners Courts and the constituents they serve. The facts and figures in the Texas county budget often epitomize a way of life, or at least an intended way of life, if budget planners have their say. For example, consider the following defining phrases used in a conference training session on the county budget:
- A plan of action for the fiscal year
- A policy statement by the Commissioners Court
- A vision statement for the county
Story after story has been researched and written on the county budget and county revenue, including the lack thereof. For example, the October 2016 issue of County Progress included an article titled, “What You Wish Your Constituents Knew About County Government, the County Budget, and the Property Tax,” where we discussed mandated and discretionary responsibilities, county income including the property tax, the appraisal process, and common misperceptions. In addition, during this trying legislative session with revenue caps on the table, it is difficult to address the dollars-and-cents aspect of the budget; take, for instance, the challenging picture painted in the Unfunded Mandates Survey report, published in the March 2017 issue of County Progress. With that said, the budget season is fast approaching, and counties have no choice but to “keep on keeping on.” In Val Verde County this means setting goals and formulating mission statements upon which to build the 2017-2018 county budget.
Val Verde County Judge
Efrain Valdez, born and raised in Del Rio, was sworn into office in January 2015 as the County Judge. Interestingly, Valdez holds the distinction of being the only person in Val Verde County to serve his community as both the mayor and County Judge.
Valdez served as a city councilman for the city of Del Rio for four years, 1998-2002, and then was elected twice as mayor, serving from 2006-2010. During his tenure, he led efforts to reduce government waste and conserve the region’s water resources. He also served as chairman of the Texas Border Infrastructure Coalition, and he was and continues to be known for his strong commitment to Laughlin Air Force Base, considered by many as the cornerstone of the Val Verde County economy providing jobs to more than 1,200 area residents and pumping some $234 million into the local community.
In addition, Valdez was an educator and coach for 35 years in the local school district. In fact, his Del Rio golf team garnered seven district titles and produced three state qualifiers. Finally, he and his wife are owners and operators of Bibi and Company Hair Salon.
While Valdez is only in his third year as County Judge, his decades of experience in public service, education, coaching and business have taught him the truth behind a definition that, while sometimes offered in jest, is quite valuable when it comes to conducting business:
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein
Goals From the Get-Go
When Valdez took office, Val Verde County did not have a website.
“People who lived 90 miles from the courthouse would have to drive in to the county seat to view our Commissioners Court agenda,” Valdez noted. By March 2015, two months after Valdez took his oath, the county website came online, and soon after Commissioners Court meetings were accessible via Internet stream.
While that goal was quickly set and met, other goals require study and planning, and this is where the county budget comes into play. In fact, Valdez has a recent example to prove his point.
“When I became County Judge, I looked at what we needed to do to improve economic development in the county,” Valdez shared. As mayor, Valdez had already discovered that Laughlin Air Force Base was the No. 1 contributor to the local economy, and that a strong and thriving base was a catalyst to greater economic strength for the entire county.
While making inquiries as to base needs, Valdez learned that railroad tracks located some 500 feet in front of the base’s main gate meant that at times entrance to the gate was impeded, blocking not only regular users but emergency vehicles, as well. He also ascertained that the processing/security building located inside the main gate actually needed to be relocated outside of the gate.
As Valdez simultaneously examined other areas of the county, he quickly discovered that Loop 79, made possible by pass-through financing, was under-utilized.
“Pass-through financing means that the more people who use the loop, the more money we get to pay off the loan we took to build it,” Valdez detailed. “One of the things I quickly learned was that there were not enough people using the loop.”
“I decided to kill two birds with one stone,” stated Valdez, who set in motion plans to relocate the entrance to the main gate so that 1) users would have to use Loop 79 to access the entrance, meaning increased use of the loop and increased income, and 2) the gate would no longer be blocked by a passing train, meaning emergency vehicles would have continual access.
In order to relocate the gate, Valdez and the county took the lead in applying for a grant available to military communities. This particular grant required a match.
“Most grants require a match, usually a 5, 10 or 15 percent match,” Valdez remarked. “When you set a goal, you need to include that grant match money. You need to have it set aside.”
On a related note, Valdez learned that the base runways lacked adequate drainage; Valdez approached the Pentagon and was able to access additional funds to address the drainage issues.
If a county continues doing the same things every year without setting goals and planning for them, then the county will never see improvement, Valdez observed. Everything will just remain the same.
The 2016-17 budget spelled out three goals for the county including follow-up points on how to pursue those goals:
Promote a favorable environment for retaining and expanding existing business while attracting a wide variety of new business to provide employment opportunities.
Programs to achieve the goal:
- Participate with all entities in economic development planning for the entire county.
- Support existing local business. Meetings will be held with the Del Rio Chamber of Commerce, city of Del Rio and Val Verde County in hopes of bringing all local entities together to establish economic development goals.
Utilize state-of-the-art equipment and methods to provide the appropriate and timely service authorized and allowed by law.
- We have established and are maintaining a county website to make county information more readily available to the public.
- A video recording of all Commissioners Court meetings has been established to keep the general public informed of the county’s business. We will continue to upgrade all of our technology in order to maintain a more efficient service to the public.
Assure that the county is a safe and attractive place to live, work and play.
- Continue the effort to establish a County Animal Shelter for the welfare and safety of the citizens of Val Verde County.
- Continually update educational and training sessions for emergency management.
“In order for me to get results and for the Commissioners to get results, different results than we have seen in the past, we have to set goals,” Valdez reiterated.
The Judge believes so strongly in the spelling out of goals that the finalized budget document, available at http://valverdecounty.texas.gov/258/Financial-Transparency, includes specific Mission Statements and Long-Term Goals from the County Judge and each County Commissioner.
Judge Efrain Valdez
The mission of the Val Verde County Judge’s office is to promote coordination and assistance to all county offices in a manner that promotes technological advancements, adherence to laws of the State of Texas, and efficiency in public service. Most importantly, the County Judge strives to ensure that all citizens are treated with respect and given the ability to receive services in a timely manner.
- Continue to promote the establishment of a county website that will allow citizens better access to county information.
- Actively promote emergency services to provide safety and knowledge to all citizens.
- Continually seek and establish county functions and facilities that will better serve citizens.
Emergency Management Mission Statement:
Under the direction of the County Judge, the Val Verde County Emergency Management Coordinator serves the citizens of Val Verde County by directing and coordinating emergency management programs to prevent/mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies and disasters.
(Retired) Precinct 1 Commissioner Ramiro V. Ramon
To provide to the best of our abilities the essential services required to all of our constituents and to work with all county personnel to achieve this goal.
- Pave all streets in Precinct 1.
- Upgrade all bridges that need upgrading.
- Bring water to colonias in Precinct 1.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Lewis G. Owens
To continue to serve the citizens of Precinct 2 by improving infrastructure and making sure that tax dollars are spent reasonably and effectively.
Pave all streets in Precinct 2.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Robert “Beau” Nettleton
Precinct 3 strives to serve the public and improve the quality of infrastructure in the precinct.
- Have every county road in Precinct 3 paved within the next 10 years.
- Fund and build a sports complex and covered arena at the fairgrounds.
- Have water and sewer infrastructure in the area surrounding the lake in order to diminish possibilities for contamination of drinking water and Lake Amistad.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Gustavo Flores
To continue to serve the citizens of Precinct 4 by improving infrastructure, providing colonia assistance, and making sure that tax dollars are spent reasonably and effectively.
- Construction of park(s) as funding allows, to provide opportunities for children in the precinct and countywide.
- Establish a computer lab at the Community Center, which will be available to all Val Verde County citizens who do not have those services available otherwise.
The final budget document incorporates mission statements and goals from other officials and employees including the county clerk, district clerk, justices of the peace, county court at law judge, auditor, treasurer, tax assessor-collector, information technology specialist, purchasing agent, Extension agents, librarian, fire supervisor, sheriff, risk management/health inspector, constables and human resources personnel director.
“The budget is not ‘my budget’ or ‘the Judge’s budget,’ ” Valdez emphasized. Rather, the budget is initiated and developed by a team that works together on behalf of the entire county. In Val Verde County this team is comprised of the County Judge, the Judge’s administrative assistant, the auditor, the treasurer and the purchasing agent.
“The auditor tells you how much money you have, the purchasing agent explains how much things will cost, and the treasurer tells us how to get the money,” Valdez explained. Of course, the entire Commissioners Court is involved in passing the final budget.
The budget process is launched in April or May when the Judge’s administrative assistant gives every county department 30 days to develop a prioritized “wish list.”
Each step of the budget process is dictated by a budget calendar to ensure that hearings and notices take place as prescribed by law, Valdez specified.
Along with mission statements, goals, and a detailed picture of county finances, including information on county revenue sources and various funds, the Val Verde County budget includes a basic but thorough explanation of county government.
County government structure is spelled out in the Texas Constitution, which makes counties functional agents of the state. Thus, counties, unlike cities, are limited in their actions to areas of responsibility specifically spelled out in laws passed by the Legislature. The statutory duties and responsibilities of county officials in Texas are numerous. County government’s principal focus is on the judicial system, health and social services delivery, law enforcement, and road construction. In Texas, counties have no ordinance-making powers other than those explicitly granted by the state law.
Texas has 254 counties with similar organizational features; a governing body (the Commissioners Court) consisting of one member elected at large (the County Judge) and four Commissioners elected by precincts. The County Judge is both presiding officer of the Commissioners Court and Judge of the County Court and is named for his or her actual judicial responsibility.
The Commissioners Court serves as both the legislative and executive branch of county government, and has budgetary authority over virtually all county departments, including those headed by other elected officials.
In Texas county government, there is not a hierarchy level for elected county officials, as all elected officials answer directly to the voters. The Commissioners Court authority over county offices, including elected offices, is limited to its authority to approve and disapprove the budgeted funds appropriated for each department’s activity.
The Val Verde County budget document covers all of the bases, offering taxpayers a complete picture of how their tax dollars are being spent, including the greater purpose. Perhaps the objectives recited throughout the budget are best summarized by Judge Valdez, who offers the following mission statement on his county webpage: “To be accessible to serve the public with the utmost integrity and honesty, to do our best to provide essential services through an efficient and productive use of the county’s resources, and to be obligated to the citizens of our county.”