I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the seasonably warm winter we have been experiencing. With the bleak predictions we’ve had regarding precipitation, it’s great to see all the showers and rain storms we’ve been getting, and I certainly welcome even more the good Lord may provide. I was glad to hear some parts of our state received up to nine inches.
I should be saying the election season is upon us, but as everyone knows by now, that’s not the case…well…sort of. I hope by the time you read this column everything will be settled regarding this redistricting mess and we will all know when the primary election will be held. Again, I want to thank Jim Allison, our general counsel, all our county officials, Texas Association of Counties, and the Conference of Urban Counties who have participated in conference calls, written briefs, and attended any hearings that have taken place. Great job, and thanks for keeping us informed!
If you are like most counties, the county judge is getting ready to gear up for the budget process, which almost always seems to be a challenging time. Although the economy has improved slightly, I believe it’s going to continue to be a difficult year for most people. According to the most current statewide data available, as of December 2011 our unemployment rate is still up at 7.8 percent. Counties continue to have social service agencies and other entities asking for increases to funding, since their resources are being cut at the state and federal levels. Despite these cuts in funding, the number of clients being seen by these agencies has increased tremendously. Our local area Hays County Food Bank saw another record number of people served this Thanksgiving, providing “turkey boxes” to a total of 2,453 families. That translates to 9,652 individuals. Sadly, folks continue to struggle, so we must be mindful and good stewards of our taxpayers’ money as we begin preparing our yearly budgets.
Another area I have seen more counties being asked to play a larger part in financially is improvements to our state and federal roadways. In order to expedite badly needed safety, capacity and mobility improvements, especially in fast growing counties like Hays, we have found it beneficial to partner with TxDOT and their Pass-Through Finance Program to see improvements completed in a much timelier manner. Although Pass-Through funds are becoming more and more limited, it can prove very challenging for smaller and slow-growing counties to finance anything other than county roadways. Also, it has become very difficult to ask families to pay higher taxes in order to fund these roadways when many have lost their jobs or have seen their hours cut.
Finally, CJCAT regional conferences are gearing up! The V.G. Young Institute just completed its conference in February, and it was great to see many of you there. I hope you will make every effort to support and attend one or more of the upcoming regional and/or state conferences. It’s a good time to visit with colleagues from other parts of our state and learn from each other; plus, you pick up most or all of your required continuing education hours. Let’s stay educated!