Sunday, April 28, 2013


I have been attending the Milam County Commissioners Court meetings on a fairly regular basis since the first of the year.  Since January Judge Barkemeyer has been pointing out the dire financial situation of the county.  10.6 million in expenses and 10.2 in income budgeted for the year.

The Judge continues to point out various departments that are falling short of his projections.  He also brings the costs of the capital murder trial up on a regular basis.   The trial costs are something that no one can accurately predict at this point in time.  He does wind up most of his comments with the expression of his hope that all will be well when the year ends.  Great to be optimistic, but optimism does not pay the bills, or for a capital murder trial.

The murder trial is something that could continue to affect the county for years to come.  Automatic appeals will be paid for by the county.  Gray County spent almost $750,000, about 10% of their budget to defend a Missouri man who shot and killed three people.  The cost increases when you consider the county's cost of prosecuting the defendant.  In a March 1992 article The Dallas Morning News reported each death penalty case in Texas costs taxpayers about $2.3 million.

Costs of any trial depends on the complexity of the case, how long the trial lasts, the number of appeals and writs that may be filed.  Point is that there is no accurate way to predict the final costs of a capital murder trial.  It could be anywhere from $100,000 or less to a lot more.  Bottom line is that whatever it costs Milam County will foot the bill.

We are still early in the year and some things look good others not so good.  Right now sales tax revenue is ahead of predictions, but fines fees and commissions are somewhat behind in several areas.  Judge Barkemeyer has made it a point to show the departments that are behind and seems to indicate that the elected officials are in some way to blame for not meeting his predictions of revenue.

Justice of the Peace Andy Issacs has been pointed out several times as being behind in collections.  Fact is that Judge Issacs only sentences he does not collect.  The Judge has no real control over who pays or when they pay.  It has also been noted that the revenue from housing out prisoners in our jail is falling behind Judge Barkemeyer's predictions.  I wonder how much input the Sheriff or Judge Issacs had on the Judge's revenue estimates.

Now what's confusing me?  Well, there will be a special meeting of the Commissioners Court on Tuesday April 30 at 10:00 am and one item on the agenda is the issuance of bonds for funding roads in Milam County.  If the county is in such dire financial straits, and has no way of accurately predicting the costs of a capital murder trial why would we want to put the county even further in debt by issuing bonds?

Ted Cruz, our new US Senator recently said that sometimes raising taxes may be the more conservative thing to do.  Judge Barkemeyer's proposal for road bonds would include interest on the money borrowed over many years.  On the other hand, the Texas Constitution provides for the voter approval of a special road and bridge tax not to exceed 15 cents per hundred.   
Why not propose a certain tax rate dedicated to this fund that would allow us to pay as we go without interest?  Over the long term saving lots of money, thus more conservative

Monday, April 8, 2013


Our veterans deserve the best service we can provide them.  After all they did put their lives on the line for us.  Even if they did not serve in combat they did give up a number of years of their lives.  No matter what branch they served in they were available to be sent into harm's way in a moment's notice.  Leaving behind family and friends for an unknown length of time, and some to pay the greatest sacrifice and never return.

Judge Barkemeyer recently took action to save money by cutting services to the veterans in Milam County.  In an attempt to balance a budget that really does not look all that good at this point in time he cut the veteran's secretary's position to half time.  I understand trying to balance a slipping budget, but on the backs of our veterans?

I agree with a lot of the things Dave has done while in office, but this is not one of them.  To be honest when I served as Judge I too might have thought about cuts in the veterans' office if my budget was out of whack.  However, I have since had the opportunity to see just how important this office is in a very up close and personal way.

Sometime back my mother-in-law had to be placed in long term care.  Her husband had served during World War II and she was entitled to benefits due to his service.  Let it suffice to say that the paperwork and red tape to get to the benefits is beyond comprehension of a normal person.  Had it not been for the services and assistance available from Ken Janicek's office Rae Beth and I would still be working on the paperwork.  Had Ken not had the full time secretarial assistance we would never have gotten qualified as quickly as we did.  Thanks to his assistance Mom can afford the long term care costs.

Due to Judge Barkemeyer's decision Ken will not be able to devote full time to the veterans.  He instead will be spending half his time taking care of the secretarial work in his office.  Veterans devoted their full time to us we deserve to provide them the best assistance possible.  It is not the veterans' fault that the government made the qualification process so difficult, but it is Judge Barkemeyer's fault that Ken will have less time to assist our veterans.  Dave, you really need to change your mind on this one.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


During the first Commissioners Court meeting of February an overview of the first month's financial activity for the county was given.  Not sure that I fully understand what was said, but my take was that Milam County has budgeted to spend more than it will take in this year.

Judge Barkemeyer discussed several accounts that were behind in revenue and pointed out those that were over budget.  One thing you need to know is that one month of data does not really give a good picture of the overall performance of the county's financials.  January tends to be a slow month anyway.  One good point was that the county has collected 75% of the taxes due for the current budget year.

He pointed out that the county has budgeted expenses of 10.6 million and budgeted revenue of 10.2.  He attempted to convince the audience that there was some way to make up the 400,000 dollar difference.   A very optimistic position from my viewpoint.

Herbie Vaughn is no longer Constable in precinct 3 and there is no evidence that his successor is going to pursue traffic enforcement as vigorously as Herbie did.  Housing of out of county inmates is running below projections for the 2013 budget.  A loss of approximately 25,000 dollars will be realized with the loss of Nocturnal Fest in 2013.  Not to mention the estimated 200,000 dollars of extra revenue for local business that it has accounted for in the past.

He also mentioned the unsure costs of the capital murder trial that will be held this year.  Now that the District Attorney has decided to pursue the death penalty in this case it will not be a cheap trial.  Not only will the cost of the trial be borne by the county, but the automatic appeals will also come out of our pocket.  Judge Barkemeyer went on to say this was the one surprise that might be in the county's future.  I wonder if he has checked the price of gas lately?

My stance has always been that county budgeting is a very difficult process.  I believe that you have to be somewhat conservative in planning both expenses and revenue.  Not all traffic fines will be collected and inmate housing is no guarantee of income.  I just hope that Judge Barkemeyer's optimism proves to be on target.  You can view his presentation online at

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Every citizen needs to take time out to attend a Commissioners Court meeting.  You never know when you are going to learn something new and exciting.  Like how to approve a fireproof vault for the County Clerk that is not fireproof.  Yep, during the court meeting on January 28th the Milam County Commissioners Court actually approved the construction of a fireproof vault that is not fireproof.

During public participation County Clerk Barbara Vansa brought up the fact that the bid and plans approved by the court for the new construction was not totally fireproof.  Only a portion of the structure is to be fireproof.  However, the bid specifications did in fact call for a fireproof structure.

Barbara's information to the court seemed to push one of Judge Barkemeyer's buttons.  During the agenda item to discuss the construction the Judge was less than judicial in his comments to Barbara.  Seems to me he was suggesting that Barbara should have known by reading the blueprints that the entire addition was not going to be fireproof.  Putting the shoe on the other foot it is clear the Court did not know what they were approving.  Bids were let for a fireproof vault, and yet led by Judge Barkemeyer the Court approved something less.

One of the County Clerk's primary responsibilities is to care for and maintain county records.  Protecting them against fire is a real concern.  Clerks throughout Texas have fireproof protection for their records.  If they don't have it they sure do want it.  Many a potential court case was settled over the years when courthouses caught fire.  Even one of Milam County's courthouses burned down under suspicious circumstances in 1874.

My concern here is why are we spending money to build a fireproof vault that is not fireproof?  You would like to think one of the members of the Court, maybe even the Judge, would have said something about putting a hold on the construction until it met the requirements for fireproofing.  Poor leadership if you ask me.

Judge Barkemeyer did mention that if the clerk had the money to fix it fix it.  I worked with Barbara Vansa for many years and know her focus is on doing her job.  My bet is that the vault will be totally fireproof if she does have the money.  And it will be fireproof thanks to an elected official who is more interested in getting the job done than placing blame.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


If you have not seen Judge Barkemeyer's video on the state of Milam County I highly recommend you take the time to view it.  The Judge does a good job of presenting some information about county finances and his plans for the future of Milam County roads.  You can find it on the Milam County website.

While agreeing with many of his comments and numbers presented I do take issue with his road building plan.  First issue is the Judge indicates that the Commissioners are preparing a plan to vote on.  "Their" plan includes borrowing five million dollars on a twenty year bond, and uses the funding to pave 100 miles of road over the next five years.  I have yet to talk to a Commissioner that supports this plan.

The plan would saddle the Commissioners with 20 years of payments on the bonds.  While the first year million dollar split between the precincts would have full value and buying power by year five inflation will have taken some percentage of buying power away, but the county would still owe the full million.  Judge Barkemeyer says this must be done without raising taxes, but fails to say where the money will come from to repay the bonds.

Judge Barkemeyer also compliments the Commissioners on the paving of 12 miles of road during the past year.  While 12 miles is not a lot it was done without incurring debt.  By incurring five million in debt plus interest over twenty years the Judge indicates that 20 miles per year could be paved.  Not sure about his figures on the 20 miles, but you can be sure on the 20 years of payback with interest.  How would the paving be continued for the next fifteen years?  One must also consider inflation and know that by year five the 20 mile figure, if correct in the first place, would certainly be lower.

Seems to me like we should stick to the pay as you go method, rather than the spend as you go and worry about how to pay for it later method.  Or instead of selling bonds simply access the 16 cent road and bridge tax that is available and pay as you go.  That would save you 20 years worth of interestIt would also allow flexibility to increase or lower the burden on the taxpayer as needed.

Put a ballot up to the public on raising taxes that would be directed only at paving projects.  Personally, I chose to live where I live and it just happens to be on a gravel road.  It has improved greatly over the last 40 plus years and I don't want my road paved, or more taxes.