Tuesday, November 22, 2011


The amendment election went as expected across the state. A five percent voter turnout in Milam County matched the statewide average. Pitiful. Yeah, some of you think maybe the amendments really did not affect each of us, but the fact that no one cares is one of the major problems with this country today.

It really amazes me just how naive, or perhaps just plain dumb, some people can be. There were several amendments that will in fact affect all of us. One in particular will result in the average landowner paying more taxes in the future.

SJR 14 Proposition number one amended the constitution to authorize the legislature to provide the surviving spouse of a 100 percent or totally disabled veteran with an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the surviving spouse’s residence homestead as long as the surviving spouse has not remarried, the property was the residence homestead of the surviving spouse when the qualifying veteran died, and the property remains the residence homestead of the surviving spouse.

Since the amendment passed those meeting the requirements will get an exemption from property taxes. Do not get me wrong I definitely am not against veterans or their surviving spouses, but the reality is that the lost tax revenue for all taxing entities will have to be made up somewhere.

Have you ever considered how many exemptions there are for taxes in Texas? Both property and sales tax codes allow for many exemptions. For property there is the homestead exemption, over 65 exemption, renewable energy exemption, wildlife conservation exemption and agricultural exemption to name a few.

Each and every exemption takes money away from the state, city, county and school tax base. As a result those of us that do not qualify for an exemption get to pick up the slack for those that do. Granted many exemptions are good and for a good cause. The point is the revenue has to be made up somewhere.

This last amendment election was once again a notice to Texas that it is time to revamp some things. We have been doing business as usual for way too long. A good example of this was Proposition Number 7, SJR 28.

SJR 28 would have amended the constitution by adding El Paso County to the list of counties authorized to create conservation and reclamation districts to develop parks and recreational facilities financed by taxes. Why is it the entire state of Texas votes on an issue that affects only El Paso County? Local control? I don't think so.

It is time for our leaders to take a look at revamping the constitution which the state now operates under. Might also be time to look at the tax code and the way we do things. Some say removal of exemptions would lower the tax rates for everyone.

I mention all of the above in making a point that we all need to be more involved in what is going on in government. Granted the Federal government is way too complicated and closed for most of us to even begin to catch a clue. We have to rely on the media, and we all know one needs to be very careful about their sources.

When five percent of the voters are making all of the decisions it is no wonder the rest of us are a little discouraged about government. Everyone is busy and it does take time to educate yourself. However, time invested in trying to understand what is going on will be time well spent. Just remember this that it's your own damn fault if you do not get out and vote.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Most political elections in this country are decided by less than a majority of eligible voters. One example is the 2010 General Election where in Texas 32.3% of the eligible voters decided who won. That means 67.7% of the eligible voters had no voice in their government. Remember we are talking "eligible" voters. There are lots of folks who unfortunately do not even register to vote.

Now, if you think that is low voter turnout I would certainly agree with you. However, Constitutional Elections are notorious for low voter turnout. The Constitutional Election in November, 2009 had a turnout, are you ready for this, of 8.18%. There ought to be a law, and if you do not take the time to vote on the upcoming proposed constitutional amendments there
in fact could be several new laws.

There are a total of ten proposed amendments to our state constitution. Those that are passed by the voters will become the law of the land. You need to study the proposals and decided on your position as to the positive or negative effects it could have on Milam County and Texas.

Constitutional elections can be very confusing. Take for instance Amendment 7 is to be voted on by the entire state, but will only affect El Paso County. So why does the entire state vote on it? It takes a vote of the entire state to change the state constitution even if it will only affect one county.

Amendment 1 if passed could provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the residence of a widow of a 100% or totally disabled veteran. Amendment 8 also relates to creating another ad valorem tax exemption.

While property tax exemptions might sound good remember that those taxes exempted have to be made up somewhere. That somewhere is those of us that do not qualify for the new exemption.

Amendment 10 relates to the resign to run rule. Currently the state constitution provides that an elected office holder at the county level automatically resigns from their office if they announce their intention to run for another office with a year or more remaining in their current term.

During the last legislative session Austin changed the filing dates from December 1st to January 2nd to November 12th through December 12th for the upcoming political season. Basically this means if say a Milam County Constable wanted to run for Sheriff he would have to file with more than 365 days left in his term and as a result of filing for another office automatically resign from the current office.

Amendment 10 will change the constitution and provide for lengthening the time that results in an automatic resignation. Instead of one year this proposed amendment will change the time periods to one year and thirty days. It is also interesting to note that the amendment will take effect if passed by the voters in time to apply to the upcoming political season.

Too bad the resign to run rule law does not apply to the Governors office. Just think how much money we Texas tax payers could be saving on security costs we are paying while Rick runs for president.

Of course Mr. Transparency in Government Perry lobbied hard during the last special session this summer to make sure we would not know the cost to Texas for his political ambitions till after the presidential race is over. He managed to get a bill passed that would keep financial information related to his security from the public for 18 months. Government transparency? Really?

Point is folks you really need to brush up on the proposed amendments for the November 8th election. You need to let your friends know that they too need to cast their votes on November 8th. The upcoming vote may well be more important than the candidate races in that you get a chance to vote against the person next time around. An amendment to the constitution is much harder to come by and you might not get a second chance to change the law.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Many of my blogs are interpreted by some as attacks on Judge Barkemeyer. While they do express my opinion which in many cases is opposite or out of line with Judge Barkemeyer's I can assure you I have a great deal of respect for the job he is doing and do agree with many things he has accomplished.

However, I do have a real problem with his recent article of September 28th where he expounds on the many benefits of the Veteran's office in Milam County, and concludes his article on how he and the Commissioners Court will be looking at cutting up to a third of the budget to bring Milam County more in line with other similar counties. I have to wonder why he does not take that "other similar counties" idea into consideration for the redistricting process.

He mentions in his article that Veterans Administration payments coming into Milam County total almost $14 million per year. He also mentions the budget for 2012 for the Veterans Office is "... just over $89,000..." If you do a little math using the Judge's figures you will find that for every one dollar of the $89,000 spent it returns over 157 dollars to the Milam County economy. Not a bad return on our investment.

He mentions part-time offices in his article as well. Our veterans did not serve part-time and they deserve more than part-time service. Their efforts is what allows Dave to write his articles and me to in turn freely speak my mind. We owe our freedom to our veterans. Freedom for Americans is not part-time.

This particular issue sort of hits close to home for me as well. No, I am not a veteran, but have
recently had some personal experience with our local Veterans Officer . We all know that with any government program there is "red tape" to wade through. I can testify that the Veterans Administration paperwork is a lot more than the average individual can handle. Each mistake or omission delays the process of obtaining benefits even longer.

My Mother-in-Law had a stroke and is confined to a long term care facility. She is the widow of a WW II vet who fought in the European theater. As a widow of a veteran she is entitled to certain VA benefits. Benefits that she would most likely not be receiving today if not for the efforts of Ken Janicek and his staff.

My Mother-in-Law is not the only example. While serving as County Judge there were a number of veterans who came to the office, called and wrote letters in support of the Veterans Service Office.

There are a lot of other areas to cut. If you consider the Judge is proposing to cut one third of the budget, and that amounts to right around 29,000 dollars it really is not that much. Each Commissioner could donate 7,500 dollars from their almost million dollar budgets, or their reserves and bingo.

Bottom line is we owe our veterans our respect and thanks rather than making it more difficult to obtain what they have earned. And never forget many of them earned it the hard way.

Friday, October 7, 2011


In leadership positions in local government it is sometimes very difficult to do the right thing. I recently commented on the lack of leadership being shown by the Milam County Commissioners Court for the stance they took on our current economic situation. I now must congratulate the Rockdale ISD School Board for their stance on next year's budget.

An article in the September 22nd edition of the Rockdale Reporter reported members of the school board approved a tax increase for the 2012 school year budget. Part of the article read as follows:

Rockdale ISD trustees voted unanimously to adopt a ninetenths of a cent tax rate increase for 2011-2012 during their regular monthly meeting Monday night in the Central Administration Building.

The $1.225 tax rate is up slightly from the current $1.2135.

Marla Wallace, chief financial officer, said the increase is in response to Luminant’s lawsuit over values at its Sandow Power Plant. She told board members that the adopted amount may still be short.

This is one of the same issues that faces Milam County in the coming months. Just how will the court rule on the Luminant suit, and what effect could that ruling have on Milam County government?

While the Commissioners Court took the do not worry stance it might go away members of the school board made the tough decision and raised taxes to prepare for possibilities of the future.

They have taken the steps to keep the school running if things do go Liminant's way, and they can always adjust the rate next year if the ruling does go in favor of the taxing entities. The point is they did something other than bury their heads in the sand.

The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. Hoping for the best might be considered a vision by some, but by others it is purely a lack of leadership. Or maybe just the inability to make the tough decisions.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


The Justice Department said Monday that Texas' state House and congressional redistricting plans didn't comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), indicating they thought the maps approved by Gov. Rick Perry (R) gave too little voting power to the growing Latino population in the state.

A special three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. will ultimately decide whether the redistricting plan for the state violates the VRA. That's because the state of Texas chose to skip the cheaper pre-clearance process, which would have put the decision in the hands of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. A hearing is set for Wednesday.

It is going to be interesting to see how the court rules. If you followed redistricting this year in the state, and if you took government in high school you got to see a textbook example of gerrymandering.

The point is redistricting should not be a politically led process. The reality is that areas with like issues and needs should be included in the same district. When you see the GOP redistricting committee take a district in South Texas and when they are done with it less than 2% of the original voters are still in that district you got to know something just ain't right.

Funny how the current rep Aaron Pena was elected as a Democrat in HD 41 and now the district lines have been changed so the district is a majority Republican district. By the way Pena switched parties after being elected. If the current district lines stand he will represent only 1.3% of his original district.

It is also interesting to note that
the Justice Department is separately deciding whether a voter ID bill signed by Perry violates the Voting Rights Act. Keep a watch on what happens with the courts ruling. Could be a good indicator of whether or not there is any justice left in the Justice Department.

Friday, September 16, 2011


There are certain things in life that we know as indicators. For instance one of the things you can deduce when you see cactus and mesquite dying is that it is dry, and most likely dry for a long time. Granted it could be herbicide or other factors causing the problems, but when you take a look at the entire picture you quickly can see drought probably has some effect on what you are seeing.

There are many indicators or signs of tough times ahead for Milam County and Central Texas. If you listen to the weather pundits we are in for several more years of hot dry weather. Of course that could change overnight. After all, this is Texas.

There is no argument that production agriculture is a major part of the local Milam County economy. In fact agriculture provides for a majority of the dollar turnover in the local area economy. Prolonged drought certainly does not bode well for an already impacted sector of the economy.

Luminant is a major partner in the local economy and in the current 2012 tax year will provide for just under 32% of the total Milam County appraised values. The lawsuit they have filed could result in lower values either ordered by the court or negotiated through mediation.

Now, with all the previous being said one can easily figure that the two major economic factors in the local economy are at best iffy for the next 12 or more months. Take into consideration as well that the national economy is said to be entering another recession. FOX news states that one in three national economists say the country will be going into another recession. Persoanlly, on the local basis I say we are already there.

Then we read in last Thursday's local papers the county will wind up with a surplus at the end of this year. Remember, in January, or maybe it was February the same media reported we were already 1.5 million in the hole. What a difference a few months can make. Or, maybe it is just how you interpret the indicators.

I also noted in the budget hearing and later in the local news that Judge Barkemeyer said that the issues with the economy and the potential negative effects of the Luminant law suit on county finances were somethng that we should not worry about at this time. The court would do whatever it needed to do to meet the challenge. So evidently he is not too worried.

I believe that in any situation you have to have a "Plan B" just in case the best does not come to pass. I believe a lack of leadership is being shown when you see a potential wreck down the road and simply stay the course. It is much easier to meet the challenge with a plan than react to the challenge with no plan.

Quit honestly I am concerned; worried. Things do not look good down the road and if Luminant gets even some of what they want Milam County will suffer. What makes me worry even more is that those that are in charge seem to be betting on the best possible results rather than contemplating something less than the best. I just hope for all our sakes they are right.

Monday, September 5, 2011


The final hearing on the proposed 2012 Milam County Budget will be held September 7th at 6:00 pm in the Commissioners Courtroom. My last blog referred to this and again I stress the importance that the public attend and hear about the budget.

Judge Barkemeyer's article dated August 31 used some very interesting calculations that one might call more of a political spin than the real facts. He states the following in his article:

"The four Commissioner’s Precinct Budgets on first glance appear to have been increased by one and a quarter million collectively to $6,345,057 total. However, when you back out the allowance for reserve accounts, the actual budgeted amount remains essentially the same with 2011 budget without reserves being $4,520,448 and 2012 being $4,495,792, slightly less. So bottom line, our planned total budget for 2012 is some $300,000 less than 2011."

Now I am not sure where he gets his figures or why he indicated something can be backed out of a budget to balance it. Why not back out the $300,000 in reserve in the general fund and then claim a bottom line savings of $600,000?

The real figures are contained in the proposed budget available online. The grand total for General fund and Precinct funds for the 2012 budget is $16,639,883.47, and the grand total for this year's budget is $15,678,995.98. While math was not my best subject in school I did learn to do the simple stuff like add and subtract. Bottom line in the budget shows an increase of $960,887.49. That's the real bottom line.

Furthermore, the official proposed budget states that the 2012 budget will raise a total of $1,187224.48 or 1.17% more in total property taxes than this year's budget. So, again the math just does not add up. If we actually cut the budget as Judge Barkemeyer proclaims in his article by $300,000 you add that to the increased take in property taxes there should be over 1.4 million dollars hanging around somewhere, and a part of that should be returned to the taxpayers in a tax rate reduction.

As I said math was not my best subject, but this is pretty easy. I just wonder if Judge Barkemeyer's calculations are a result of his math skills being less than mine or if in his opinion we are really that stupid, or maybe it is just Austin or Washington DC math.

Friday, September 2, 2011


The last 2012 Budget Hearing will be on September 7th at 6:00 pm in the Commissioners Courtroom. This will be the third and final of the statutorily required public hearings that every county must hold. It is the public's opportunity, maybe even duty, to comment on issues they have with the proposed budget.

I attended the first and plan on attending the last. During the first hearing concerns about selected employees and elected officials receiving salary increase was brought up by several individual's in the audience. It was and remains one of my current issues with the 2012 budget.

My concerns are based on the fact that in initial planning of this year's budget (2011) there was a proposed across the board increase for all employees of two percent. No raise for elected officials just employees. Even though the money was there and the economy was much better the members of the court felt at that time no increase was needed.

It just does not make sense that with the current economic situation and the pending Luminant law suit that 51 "select" employees and elected officials receive a raise of any kind.

In the hearing I attended one elected official spoke and said that the raises for the elected officials were needed. I cannot remember the exact words, but basically the statement that was made indicated that if pay was not raised it could lead to dishonesty. Now folks, this is an elected official that made this statement.

It really did not hit home with me at first, but upon reflection was it a threat to steal? Was it indicating that county employees will become dishonest if they do not receive pay increases? What about the other employees and officials that will not get raises this year? Will they, as a result of no raise, steal from the county?

Another issue that I have is that all Milam County Justice of the Peace officials are receiving a $400 increase in travel. It was stated that Precinct 3 and 4 have to travel to the Cameron one week of each month to magistrate. Okay I understand that gasoline is expensive nowadays. However, Precinct 1 and 2 are housed in the Law Enforcement Center and they too are getting an increase in travel.

Mind you Precinct 1 and 2 have offices that are maybe a hundred or so footsteps from the magistration area, The reality is that the Law Enforcement Center was built to include two JP offices so that magistration of inmates could be done by those in the building. This was done to expedite the judicial process as well as save money for the county taxpayers.

Now I am not sure why the two newly elected Conservative Republican JP's that are housed in the Law Enforcement Center refuse to follow the lead of their predecessors, but it is costing the county money. Not much I grant you, but you gotta start saving somewhere.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


No, I have not retired from blogging, but retirement has been keeping me rather busy. It has really been too hot to do much of anything. However, lots going on and finally back in the mood to speak my mind.

County budgeting is a difficult and a somewhat convoluted activity at best. It is extremely difficult for the average citizen to understand. County budgeting does not follow the logic that business budgets do.

One of the main differences is that businesses can adjust their budgets on an as needed basis. Counties on the other hand can make line item transfers but statutes keep counties from changing their bottom line. Only in "true" emergency situations can the county change its bottom line.

Section 111.110 (c) of the Local Government Code states; The commissioners court may authorize an emergency expenditure as an amendment to the original budget only in a case of grave public necessity to meet an unusual and unforeseen condition that could not have been included in the original budget through the use of reasonably diligent thought and attention.

Now, I am not sure if you have heard that Luminant Corporation has filed suit against the Milam County Appraisal District disputing their appraised value for the 2012 budget year. If they win their law suit then the current county budget, based on a higher appraised value, will fall considerably short of the current income estimates.

So, my question is will the Commissioners Court see this as a reason to adjust the proposed budget accordingly? Remember the law says, "...only in a case of grave public necessity to meet an unusual and unforeseen condition that could not have been included in the original budget through the use of reasonably diligent thought and attention."

The possibility of Luminant winning their case, or a settlement that brings down the revenue for the county can reasonably be seen at this point in time. Hopefully, Judge Barkemeyer and the Commissioners will show the leadership to make the tough decisions. If Luminant does not win then look at all the extra money they will have for the next budget. Better safe than sorry.