Many years ago before I was a county judge, I was employed by the United States Department of Agriculture. I was also heavily involved in farming and ranching. I used to say that everything I made working for the government I lost farming. (For some reason, my wife, Melanie, never thought that was so funny.) During those years Melanie would say there were two times during the year that she just didn’t like me very much: income tax time and harvest. She always told me that my personality changed, and I became a little, or a lot, grumpy. She was so happy when I became county judge and got out of farming and would not have to deal with harvest any more; however, now she says there are still two times during the year that she just doesn’t like me very much, only the two times have changed: income tax time and budget time.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but it seems to me that budget time is lasting longer and longer each year as we are constantly trying to make revenues reach to meet expenses. I am beginning to think the other officials in my county feel the same way about me as my wife does during this time of year because they seem to avoid me. I was speaking with my sheriff a few days ago, and I began to say to him that we would begin budget hearings this month. I didn’t even get the words out of my mouth before he finished my sentence for me by saying, “I know, I know – it’s budget time.”
This year, budget time certainly has its challenges. One of those challenges is to sift through all the budget cuts from the Legislature and determine how they are going to affect us at the county level. At the very least, it is going to cause us to have to determine how many of those cuts we will have to fund locally, and how much that funding will be. We will also have to determine the extra cost involved in complying with new regulations in every department. My prayers go out to all of you and hope that you can get through this year’s budget without becoming grumpy old judges and commissioners.
It is also fireworks season, and with the lack of rain throughout our state I know most of you have banned fireworks in some form. Either you took action under Local Government 352.051 and prohibited or restricted the sale or use of restricted fireworks, which are defined as “skyrockets with sticks” and “missiles with fins,” or you declared a local state of disaster under Texas Government Code 418.108 which may include a prohibition or restriction on the sale and use of all fireworks within the county, but only for a period of 60 hours unless the governor extends the period. Because of the extreme drought this year, I felt we had no choice but to declare a local disaster and prohibit all fireworks along with all outdoor burning. To my knowledge the governor has not refused any request to extend the ban through the July 4th season. I know the fireworks industry does not like the fact that we ban fireworks, and I certainly wish we did not have to, but during extreme conditions like we have this year it is imperative that we do what we can to protect the lives and property of our citizens. This is just one of the challenges we in county government face every day.
I pray that as we celebrate Independence Day this year, we remember the sacrifice and struggles that our forefathers endured so we could live in freedom; if we do this, then our challenges will not seem so large. Remember, when challenge tries the soul of man, it is the character of man that dictates the outcome.