What is the County Commissioners Court?

And what do commissioners do, anyway?

Every county in Texas is divided into four precincts, each with approximately the same population amount. Each precinct has one elected commissioner to represent it in the County Commissioners Court, which serves as the policy-making and administrative body for the county.

The County Commissioners Court is primarily responsible for*:

  • Setting Tax Rates (e.g. for property and sales) and Fees for county services;
  • Establishing Commissioner and Justice of the Peace precinct boundaries;
  • Acquiring property for rights-of-way or other uses determined to be in the public's best interests;
  • Reviewing and approving subdivision platts and wastewater treatment for rural areas;
  • Adopting a county budget;
  • Exclusive authorizing of county contracts;
  • Providing and maintaining all county buildings and facilities;
  • Appointing all county department heads, other than offices headed by elected officials; and
  • Making all other personnel decisions other than those who are elected or appointed by the judiciary or other committees.

In addition to budgetary and policy-making concerns, commissioners can (and should) be advocates for their constituents, communicating with state legislators and serving as the precinct's voice on public policy decisions. This is particularly important when it comes to state policies that dictate unfunded mandates, revenue caps, budgetary matters, public debt and other issues that directly impact county management.

Commissioners can become advocates by meeting regularly with state representatives, holding Town Halls with constituents, and being an active member of the Texas Association of Counties' (TAC) Core Legislative Group.

 

*not a comprehensive list

Sources: Various, primarily TAC, GuadCo website, various county websites

Last Edited: Feb 1, 2018

 

Posted on 15 Sep 2017, 11:28 - Category: Government Transparency



Going Local: Why County Commissioners Should Hold Town Halls

 

Many bills debated in state legislatures have potential to impact individual counties and cities in significant ways. That is why it’s vital that county commissioners regularly interact with their state representatives, both to stay abreast of the latest legislative activities and to provide a voice for their constituents. To do so, commissioners need to meet regularly with their constituents to talk about state bills that may impact them and receive citizen feedback. Town halls shouldn’t just be for state and federal representatives! Sometimes, the state legislature debates a bill that city councils and county commissioner courts oppose, but that constituents support. A tricky situation, no doubt, but that is when it’s even more important to interact with residents, both to hear their point of view and to make a case for the court’s viewpoint if different.

Such is the case with Texas Senate Bill 2, which proposes a revenue cap on property taxes for cities, counties and special districts. Currently, there is an 8% cap on property taxes; if a tax rate exceeds the 8% rate, a tax ratification election must be held. SB2 proposes rolling back that cap to 4% (it was recently amended to 5% while in the committee.) For residents, this means that their city, county or special district can’t raise property taxes higher than 5% in any given year without putting it to vote by residents. As a homeowner, I want low property taxes, without a doubt! However, for cities and counties, property taxes (also known as ad valorem taxes) comprise a significant portion of their budget. For example, in Guadalupe County, ad valorem taxes account for “68% of the total budgeted revenue in the General Fund and 52% of the total budget of all combined funds.”* In the chart below, you can see the property tax rates for some of the cities in Guadalupe County as well.

These city and county budgets, of course, cover a wide variety of services, mostly public safety - fire, EMS, police - so any actions that reduce local revenues will either have to be made up through other means (higher sales tax, for example) or through cutting services. 

Now, the purpose of this post is not to make an argument in support of or opposition to SB2. Rather, the point is that the Texas legislature often introduces and debates bills that impact our lives as city and county residents. While it is the individual’s responsibility to be aware of the actions of, and communicate with, state representatives, I believe our county officials should be proactive in bridging the gap between state government and the local populace. These commissioners are in the best position to interact with both their constituents and the state legislators, and provide feedback to both groups. Doing so not only improves transparency within local government, but also helps demystify, and de-silo, the various factions of government whose actions can have such an impact on our lives. 

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*Guadalupe County Budget for Fiscal Year 2016-2017

Posted on 16 Mar 2017, 19:01 - Category: Government Transparency



Red State? Texas' Status as a Non-voting State Creates Opportunity for Democrats

This article has been moved! Apologies for the inconvenience.

Please read the full article here.

Posted on 21 Mar 2017, 8:37 - Category: Guadalupe County Democratic Party, GOTV



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