Texas is in the midst of a sustained drought period causing extreme fire danger. Many counties have imposed County Burn Bans in an effort to curb the danger of wild fires. However, this causes commissioners courts to face local pressure to allow certain waivers for burning or to lift bans before conditions improve. Each county must make these crucial decisions based on their local conditions, understanding the need to protect the lives and property of all citizens. Another factor on the horizon is, if conditions do not improve quickly, counties must begin to consider restricting fireworks during the Fourth of July season. All these decisions affect the lives of those in our counties both positively and negatively, making them very difficult for courts to make.
Because of the economic conditions and budget shortfall in our state, we must continue to monitor the Texas Legislature as the session continues. Jim Allison is hard at work analyzing legislation and how it will affect counties. The state is looking for revenue anywhere it can, and there is the temptation to look at county revenue as a way of increasing state funds. Counties will see their portion of several fees and dedicated funds disappear and moved to the state if the Appropriations Bill passes as filed. This is even worse than an unfunded mandate, where the state does not provide funds to pay for the cost of state mandated programs. In this situation programs are left in place for us to administer while the county portion of the fee is swept into the state coffers. Jim Allison is working daily making sure that legislators realize that if they must have additional revenue, they need to raise the state fee rather than take the county portion. All local officials need to express this to their representatives and senators.
I hope that all counties in Texas have adopted a resolution in support of House Joint Resolution 56 (HJR56), the no unfunded mandates bill by Rep. Solomons (see full story, page ?). If you have not, it is not too late, so please do so. Also, remember to send all resolutions concerning legislation to your state legislators, Elna Christopher at Texas Association of Counties (TAC), and Jim Allison.
I also hope that you are taking advantage of the TAC Tuesday morning breakfasts. Each Tuesday morning at 7:00 a.m. you can come together and network with other officials to stay current on pending legislation and what is taking place during the week.
Here is a link to help you find out what is going on with any bills that you are interested in: www.capitol.state.tx.us. This is a site where you can find out almost anything you need to know.
I want to close by saying that it has been a pleasure getting to know some of our new judges and commissioners from around the state. As the year moves forward I hope to get to meet and know all of you. Thus far, I have been very impressed with the professionalism and sincere interest expressed in making their communities better. I have great faith in county government, and know that the new officials this year will continue to improve the quality of service that we provide at the local level. Continue to attend all the education classes you can, and always know that there are people all over the state who are willing to share their knowledge with you and help in any way they can.
Remember, county government is the closest government to the people and the most efficient.