August brings on the hard work of refining a county’s budget as the beginning of the fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. So, what does a county government need to spend taxpayers’ hard-earned cash on?
Your taxes pay for infrastructure, such as buildings to house county offices, county equipment, maybe utilities, airports, parks and museums; elections support so each of us can exercise our right to vote; and a court system with county attorneys, prosecutors, courtrooms, court administrative support, judges and juvenile justice services.
Other services you pay for include public safety, requiring fire stations, emergency medical services, law enforcement, jails, probation services and justices of the peace. A sizable portion of funds for transportation support — building and maintaining roads and bridges, drainage, on-site septic system planning and approvals and long-range highway planning — are also on the taxpayer.
Emergency management with hazardous materials mitigation, swift-water rescue, emergency conditions planning and response teams — including our 911 emergency network — is funded by taxpayers.
Your tax dollars also pay for public health, especially provisions for indigent and emergency conditions, solid waste management and social services.
And finally, you help fund community oversight with tax assessing and collecting, vehicle registrations, and recording and records retention of births, deaths, marriages, divorces, real estate property, contracts and real estate platting.
But beneath all this are support functions to keep a county running, such as facilities and fleet management and technical services for computers, radios, cameras and other electronic equipment and data.
Then there’s the landshark at the door — unfunded legislative mandates — requiring more people, more equipment, more work and more room but no funding to help counties do what the law requires.
The Texas Association of Counties conducts a biannual survey of county spending specific to those functions dictated by statutes but not funded by the state Legislature. They show that the costs to cover these between fiscal years 2011 and 2016 rose 20.9 percent.
One classic example of an unfunded mandate is the Michael Morton Act. Morton, who was found guilty of killing his wife in 1987, spent 25 years in prison until it was revealed that evidence corroborating his innocence had been suppressed.
The Michael Morton Act requires all evidence — including police reports and witness statements, regardless of whether the evidence is material to guilt or punishment — to be available at any time to the accused and all defense teams.