Monday, October 13, 2014


A lot has been going on in Milam County since my last blog, and I've been pretty busy myself.  Been working on this blog since the first of September, but have had to do one of those write it, set it aside, read it then rewrite it several times.  I want to communicate the real issues here.  It is what it is.

I read with interest The Judge's September 3rd column on communication, or "Why Communicate."
Webster defines communication as; "the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviors to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else."  The key part here is, "…to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else."

Good communication is a very difficult process to achieve. Courses are taught everyday on effective communication skills.  Our own biases naturally enter into any communication we attempt, or a spin is placed on the communicated information to send the messages we want to be sent.  Take for instance FOX news or one of the liberal news media sources.  Give them the same story or information and you will see it communicated in two totally diametric styles.

Communication as many of you already know is a skill that we all use to get our point across.  Take sales of any product.  The advertisements for that product communicate the wonderful benefits that particular product will give you if you pay the price plus shipping.  Guaranteed or your money back, but wait if you order now…you all know the rest of the story.  This is an excellent example of communication being used to sway your opinion and get your money.  Unfortunately we see a lot of the same thing in all levels of government.

Not picking on Dave here, but he states in his column, "The fact is these hearings and notices are not even required if the proposed rate is not increased above the effective tax rate…"  However, according to the truth in taxation publication from the State Comptroller's Office, "After publishing the required notice, taxing units must hold two public hearings."  

 Now I am sure Dave meant he did not have to hold the Community Communication Meetings, but the reality is the county is required to hold two public meetings regardless of which way the tax rate goes.

My last blog predicted an increase in taxes for the taxpayers of Milam County, and as you can see I was right.  Judge Barkemeyer had several items on his personal agenda when running for the office.  One of which was increasing the county reserve to one million dollars.  Here is where the communication issue comes up.

Before finalizing the budget and during his community meetings he repeatedly painted a picture of county finances that would indicate a need for a tax increase to keep the county from going broke.  He notes in his communications several times the use of the 600,000 dollar reserve to balance the budget.  As a matter of fact if you look at the 2015 budget you will see there is no reserve on the expense side. 

However, if you look at media articles and listen to the Judge's monthly financial updates the county will wind up 2014 with over an 800,000 dollar reserve.  So if this is true why raise taxes on the people when you have the money to balance the budget?  If you will study the budget you will see the reserve tucked away in areas with the primary goal of communicating a need for a tax increase.

It is bad enough when our state and national leaders tell us one thing when they mean another, but for it to happen at the local level kind of makes you wonder just what is our country coming to.  The Judge is right, why communicate if you are not going to give us the whole picture?  Maybe all our elected officials need a course in effective communication.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


It is budget time again for Milam County, and as always it will be a difficult task for Commissioners Court to determine the final figures.  Forget what you may have learned about budgeting in the real world of business.  Budgeting for county government is a horse of a different color.  Not because county officials want it that way, but because the state constitution and legislature have made it that way.

By law the Commissioners Court during the budget process must attempt to determine exactly how much revenue the county will receive and how much it will spend to the nearest penny during January 1 through December 31, 2015.  Mind you they have to do that before the end of September, or the 2014 budget and tax rate will automatically be adopted for 2015.  It's the law.

We all know how volatile our economy is.  Somebody shoots someone in an oil producing country halfway around the world and gasoline prices in Texas jump ten cents.  I can tell you from experience it is extremely hard to predict what things are going to be like in 2015 at this point in time.  I can tell you from experience that predicting the future is not an exact science.

There will be a lot of options for the Judge and Commissioners to consider this year just as there were last year.  The Judge chose the option of raising taxes in spite of the fact that Commissioners offered several different options during the budget hearings to avoid the tax increase.  Two Commissioners, Muege and Fisher, even voted against the 2014 budget because they felt there were options to raising taxes.

One thing that we need to see during the budget process is consistency.  Judge Barkemeyer has been quoted in the various media outlets in the county discussing the uncertainty of the revenue situation for 2015.  He has stated that the loss in valuation of Luminant of close to 70 million dollars will be offset by a 30 million dollar increase in mineral values for this year.  Then he is quoted saying it will be offset by the 20 million dollar increase in mineral valuation.

It is hard for me to understand why the chief financial officer for the county would not be aware of the real figures.  Actual figures for the certified appraised values for 2014 used to figure the 2015 budget show an increase in mineral values for Milam County at just over 12 million dollars.  Close to eight million less that the Judge has stated to the media.  These same figures are available to him and I sure hope he refigures mineral values to reflect the real increase.

Another area that I have been watching is the Judge's monthly financial reports for the county.  Hard to tell what is really going on when you compare what is said in Commissioners Court and then what is said in the media.  His court report for July seemed to be predicting doom and gloom.  Sales tax revenue down, income from housing prisoners off and other area of county income below projections.  However, he did indicate expenditures were about 10 percent below budget and this would help make up the lost revenue.

Then it is printed in the local papers that at the current pace the county could wind up adding 220,000 dollars to the general reserve.  What gives here?  For the last couple of years the Judge has praised the department heads for coming in under budget.  Question here is are they coming in under budget, or are they over budgeting for the departments?  From my experience I would say over budgeting.  It is just the nature of the beast.  The restrictions placed on the budgeting for counties forces courts to err a little on the plus side to insure that the budget makes it through the end of the year.

Lastly, the Judge has referred to an 800,000 dollar plus reserve we currently have, and that we will add another 200,000 plus to it this year.  So his personal agenda of building a reserve of a million dollars is in view.  Now the question is does he continue on his personal agenda and raise taxes again, or does he look at other options such as using some of the some of the reserve to balance the budget.  In his reelection campaign he promised four more years of the same, so I bet we see another tax increase.

The final word as to whether or not the tax payers will help achieve the Judge's personal agenda lies with the Commissioners.  If you are concerned talk to your commissioner and let them know what you think.  One thing that is consistent is that three always beats two in commissioners court.


Thursday, July 17, 2014


Transparency is one of those warm and fuzzy words that all levels of government like to toss about.  Just what is transparency?  I would say that it all depends on who you are talking to.  Should every little thing be out in public view?  Are there some things that perhaps the general public just does not need to know?  Again, it all depends on your perspective.

There are some micro-managing type A folks that probably would like to see a second by second accounting of what our government officials do.  I disagree with that thought.  We elect individuals to conduct the day to day business of our government and we need to let them do just that.  On the other hand letting government officials decide what we the public needs to know or not know brings on situations like crashed hard drives and the current IRS issues going on in Washington DC.

Locally we have situations where we are allowed to know only a part of the story.  For instance several months ago Judge Barkemeyer gave the Bryant Station Bridge to a local individual who had requested ownership of the bridge so that it could be moved to another location.  While being warned that there might be issues that needed to be looked into Judge Barkemeyer said he did not care this is what he wanted to do and the bridge was going to be given to the individual making the request.

If you do not know the rest of the story you do not know that the County Attorney advised the Judge that it was illegal to give away county real property.  It had to be put out for bid or auctioned off according to the law.  True transparency would have required the Judge to come back to court and put in the minutes that what he had done was cancelled because it was against the law and he did not have the authority to do it.

Another example of transparency issues arises with personnel.  As Judge I had an instance where an audit of a department showed the department head was not doing their job and was setting the county up for some real trouble.  Since this individual served at the pleasure of the court they were offered the opportunity to retire, resign or be fired.  The individual opted to retire so we left it at that.  Should the options the court had given the individual have been made public?  Was it necessary to inform the public the person was doing such a poor job that they would be fired if they did not elect to retire?  In my opinion no, but others probably disagree.

What about Executive Sessions?  The law allows for the Commissioners Court to go into Executive Session under certain circumstances.  The circumstance under which the court retires to the Executive Session is made public but their discussion of the particulars of the issue that enabled the Executive Session is not.  Transparency?

There are some things that the general public might not need to know, but how do you separate the plethora of information that occurs everyday at the local, state and federal level.  It is utterly impossible to meet everyone's level of transparency and define what's important and what's not.  For President Obama it is whatever he thinks is important, and for Judge Barkemeyer it is the same.  Bottom line is that it depends on your opinion and like noses we all have one.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Been a lot of media attention given to the Veterans Administration lately for their handling of the VA system.  Matter of fact I have a buddy who is the victim of the VA's incompetence.

While his issue was not necessarily being on a long waiting list it was still a matter of incompetence.  Had his check up a year or so ago and the tests showed something, but the doctor said no problem nothing to worry about.  Today, according to the doctors he has less than a year to live.

Maybe the first set of doctors honestly missed the call, and maybe this set will miss again.  It is just a good thing that my bud has the opportunity to get out of the VA system. Maybe he just got caught up in the red tape which can be a real problem anywhere along the vet's path to earned benefits. All that being said we need to remember that there is more than one part of the Veterans Administration that assists our vets.

Our local Milam County Veterans Service Office is a resource that can be used by vets and their spouses to walk them through the system and all of its red tape and other pitfalls.  I speak from experience here.  No I am not a vet, but my Father-in-law was.  When my Mother-in-law wound up in the nursing home she became eligible for veterans benefits that her spouse had earned for his service in World War II.

Not sure how many readers out there have had any experience with nursing homes, or long term care facilities as they like to call them nowadays...more politically correct, but they are very expensive.  Not knocking them here, but 24 hour 7 day a week care is not cheap.  The reality is that it is cost prohibitive for most folks without some sort of assistance.

My Mother-in-law was by no means destitute, but right at 4,000 per month can go through cash pretty fast.  Without assistance from the VA she would have been on Medicare within a couple of years.  With the VA assistance she remained private pay until her passing.  Getting the VA assistance is a whole other ball game.

If any of you have ever had any experience with a Federal government agency you know the experience is not a joyful one.  The amount of red tape is horrendous.  It is sort of like they plan it that way to weed out the weak.  Ken Janicek was the key to my Mother-in-law getting the benefits she was entitled to.  Without his help we would still be filling out and submitting paperwork.

I have talked with a number of veterans and there are some that say we do not need the Veterans Service Officer in Milam County.  They relate that many other much larger counties do not have the office.  This is true and help is available in Waco or Temple.  However, not every veteran can afford the numerous trips to an out of county office that it might take to get the job done.

I look at it this way.  Veterans gave a lot, some their life, so that we could live as we do today.  Part of their investment in preserving our freedom was the benefits that were in the contract they signed with our country.  They did their part the least we can do is insure they get what they deserve.  Sure there are some vets out there that can probably wade through all the red tape without assistance.  My Mother-in-law was not one of them.

The cost for the office is minimal compared to the return.  Milam County spent 17,000 for security cameras to nowhere.  Someone felt that security cameras were the answer to courthouse security.  In my opinion our armed forces are our key to security and we should take care of them.   

The cost to bring the Veterans Office up to speed is minimal and less than the security cameras in the courthouse that no one monitors.  The decision here really is a no brainer.