COMMISSIONERS GANG UP ON UNFUNDED MANDATES
Johnson County – Commissioners and county department heads donned hats Monday as a way of sending a message to state legislators to put a cap on unfunded mandates.
The baseball-style gimme caps — distributed statewide to commissioners courts by the Texas Association of Counties — are emblazoned with the words “Texas Counties Deliver.”
“I am going to use these caps as a symbol to deliver a message to our state representatives and legislators to understand that every time they meet (in Austin), we’re in trouble,” County Judge Roger Harmon said.
Harmon referenced a bill passed by the Legislature in 2002 that requires counties to pay for legal defense for indigent persons.
“That bill has cost this county $1.5 million per year,” Harmon said. “The state was going to fund a big portion of that, but instead, they only fund 12- to 13-cents of every dollar. They spent $222 million on indigent defense last year.”
That expense is the responsibility of citizens to pay for, Harmon said.
Harmon praised Dist. 58 Rep. DeWayne Burns for introducing HJR 73, a bill that, if passed, will prevent the Legislature from approving unfunded mandates.
“We don’t feel like it will pass, but hopefully, it sends a message to all state legislators to quit pushing unfunded mandates down on us,” Harmon said.
Legislators get to Austin and say they’re not going to raise taxes, Harmon said.
“They don’t,” he said. “They shove it down for us to pay. I’ve fought this battle a long time and will be in Austin for three days to meet with and tell these representatives and legislators to quit passing unfunded mandates down to the county level.”
Harmon wasn’t finished.
“I am not too happy to pay attorneys for people who get in trouble, and sit in our jail and we have to feed them every day,” Harmon said. “But we have to do it cause the state says we have to.
“I look at it this way. If you get into trouble, you’re on your own. I don’t think the county should help them, but state law says we have to.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner Rick Bailey agreed.
“There’s a constant in Austin for property values to increase because the legislators want the schools assisted,” Bailey said. “There’s always a push to offset our budget to compensate for their weakness, and we have to explain it.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Larry Woolley also praised Burns.
“It’s interesting that DeWayne Burns is the only guy to stick out his neck to write that bill and try to protect county government,” Woolley said. “One guy out of that whole mess down there. My hat is off to him.”
Harmon wasn’t finished.
“If anyone has received their property tax bill, they’re probably not too happy,” the judge said. “School funding has been in trouble for some time. If the Central Appraisal District raises (property) values really high, they (the legislature) can dig their way out of the hole they’re in for school funding. That’s how I see it.”
The hats are a symbol of unity, Harmon said.
“County government is the strongest form of government there is,” Harmon said. “We’re the closest to the people and you see on a daily basis how we’re doing.”
“They also know where to find us,” Woolley intoned.
In the unfinished business portion of the agenda, Kenny Burns, architect for the new jail and remodeling of the old jail, said plumbing and duct work at the old jail is completed, and metal work for the showers will be delivered June 1. Work in the dispatch area is in progress and the project is on schedule.
In the new business portion of the agenda, commissioners denied a request to authorize fireworks sales over the Memorial Day holiday.
Although Bailey and Harmon supported the request, their colleagues were against the idea.
“Our first responders are overtaxed now,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Jerry Stringer said.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Kenny Howell agreed
“We’re bound (by state statute to permit fireworks sales) to New Year’s Eve and July 4, but for these other times, I get calls from our fire chiefs asking me not to allow fireworks,” Howell said.
Woolley offered another perspective.
“There’s no sales tax, no revenue benefit, for the county,” Woolley said.
When Harmon called for the vote, the request was defeated 3-2.
Also under new business, commissioners approved a request by Purchasing Director Ralph McBroom for five people to serve on the ad hoc committee for Paramedic Care and Ambulance Services for Johnson County to select a new ambulance service for the county.
Committee members are Woolley, County Auditor J.R. ”Kirk” Kirkpatrick, Emergency Services District No. 1 Executive Director Tom Foster, Emergency Management Coordinator Jamie Moore and Dr. Elvin Adams, a local health authority.
In the preceding business portion of the agenda, commissioners spent considerable time discussing an issue that had already been decided for them regarding the approval of platted subdivision located on FM 2258 in Grandview.
Nathan Harsh, owner of Harsh Capital Investments and developer of the subdivision, requested platting for 21 lots, four of which are over a 100-foot-wide gas line easement.
“We’ve worked extensively with Mr. Harsh and County Attorney Bill Moore on the availability of water and the 100-foot easement,” Woolley said. “He has reconfigured some lots to account for the easement.”
The subdivision is the first to comply with the county’s water study requirements, which determined there is sufficient ground water to support 21 homes and septic systems, Woolley said.
Bailey expressed concern about a homeowner being unfamiliar or ignoring the fact that a gas line is present and drilling on the land, referencing the gas line explosion “about three years ago west of Cleburne that was so hot it turned sand into glass,” he said.
Harsh said he personally will reside on the property.
“He’s met the county’s requirements,” Stringer said. “Aren’t we obligated to approve this?” he asked Moore.
“He’s complied with all we asked,” Moore replied.
Woolley moved to approve the request with reservations.
“Based on his meeting the statutory requirements and the water study, I move to approve this with reservations about lots six, seven, eight and nine,” Woolley said.
Stringer seconded the motion.
When Harmon called for the vote, Howell, Stringer and Woolley voted yea. Bailey voted nay, and Harmon abstained. The motion carried.
Readers can watch the entire proceedings online at johnsoncountytx.org - click on Commissioners Court and click on video.
The next scheduled session of commissioners court will be 9 a.m. Monday, May 22, in Room 201 of the Johnson County Courthouse in Cleburne.