Tuesday, July 7, 2015


Water is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges Texas faces in the future.  One of the biggest challenges Milam County faces in the future is surviving Texas’s unquenchable thirst for water.  I know you have seen the old westerns where the cattle have been on the drive for several days without water and the cowboys try not to let them smell the water, but the cattle do and the stampede is on.  Well folks the stampede is on and looks like Milam County could get trampled.

The latest development in Texas’s water plan for the future is the Gause Off-Channel Reservoir.  The planned reservoir would cover over 4,300 acres of Milam County.  Within the planned footprint of the reservoir is Pin Oak Cemetery, the historic El Camino Real de los Tejas trail, many Native American campsites and possible burial grounds and several hundred acres of agricultural land that have been in the same family for over 100 years.

What we see happening is the few being sacrificed for the many.  Basically rural Texas is being sacrificed for the voracity of the urban areas of the state.  Of course it is all in the name of progress and great for the economic development of the state.  Not Milam County’s economic development because our water, and looks like maybe our land, will be controlled by Austin, Houston, San Antonio and other large cities across the state.

Recent reports in the local media have indicated that the reservoir might be voted down in an upcoming Brazos River Authority meeting.  While that is the hope for all of us in Milam County the reality is that the state needs water and the rural counties that have water will be sacrificed for the numbers because that is where the votes are.

I truly feel sorry for our state representatives.  Both our State Representative and Senator have their majority of voters outside the Milam County line.  I have blogged before about rural versus urban issues, and it is not necessarily about what is right but rather where the votes are.  Politics is politics and it's all about the votes and where the voters are.  With just under 15,000 registered voters in Milam County we do not stand a chance. 

There is a Texas music band The McKay Brothers that have a song out titled "The Disappearing Texas."  For those of us that have been around for the last fifty years or so the lyrics ring so true.  "There's a disappearing Texas, vanishing but not completely gone, yeah there's a disappearing, so let's leave what there is left of it alone…"  Just a matter of time and what we knew and know as Texas will vanish never to return, and all in the name of progress.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


Last blog dealt with taxes and now I need to update some of the information from the last blog.  In spite of the increase in appraisals things might not be so bright.  Luminant, the county’s largest taxpayer, is protesting their value.  Word has it that they are looking for a reduction in appraised value of around 350 million.  Certainly would negate the ninety two million dollar overall increase in county values.

However, it seems the biggest taxpayer is always upset with their value.  When ALCOA was the big kid on the block they protested every year.  Now it’s Luminant’s turn to play the game, and I do mean game.  While I was Judge every year ALCOA had issues with their appraised value.  They always thought the values were way too high.  Guess what so does Luminant.
The total appraised value for both Sandow Units 4 and 5 for 2015 is 463,452,500 dollars.  2014 values were 431,542,700 dollars.  That is an increase in value of 31,909,800 dollars.  If you remember I mentioned an increase of over 92 million in total appraised value for the county in my last blog, and if you leave Luminant values at 2014 levels you still see an increase in appraised values of over 60 million dollars.
The game I am talking about is let's negotiate.  Luminant has real deep pockets, so they threaten to sue the appraisal district over the values.  They go to mediation and work out a deal.  Now as one can see the talked about reduction that Luminant is starting the game with is 350 million, and if they were to get that it means that unit four and five values would drop to a little over 113 million.  Is that reasonable?  Not at all, but they got to start somewhere and if you are going take a shot might as well shoot for the moon.
In the past the starting point for both ALCOA and Luminant has always been a lot more than the final amount agreed upon.  I guess no one really knows what the final figure will be, but you can be assured that it will not be the 350 million Luminant is shooting for.

The real issue is that we do not know what the final figures will be, and probably will not know till late this year or early next year.  That being said the Commissioners Court has to come up with a 2016 budget by mid September.  So what do they do?  Take the conservative side and figure they get the full decrease they are expecting, figure on half or base the budget on last years values?  It's a tough call and anybody's guess.  Anybody know a good fortune teller?

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Will it ever end?  I am talking about tax increases.  Right now in Austin the Legislature is attempting to figure out a way to cut taxes.  Yet as I have traveled around the state I have seen several school bond elections being conducted, and locally Cameron ISD passed one last year and Milano ISD just passed one.  Now I am not saying that maybe there was not a need for the bonds, but just how much can property owners take?

Not only will we see an increase in our school taxes we have also seen an increase in appraised values.  According to my information from the appraisal district values for Milam County increased approximately ninety two million dollars this year.  That means almost 600,000 dollars more revenue for the county if the values hold.  These were preliminary values so they could decrease some, but I doubt they will decrease that much.
With the increase in appraised values the property is worth more and all the taxing entities in the county will see an increase in appraised values.  So will we see a decrease in the tax rate to offset the increased value?  I doubt it.  After all, the entities can take the stance that they did not increase taxes.  The good side of the increased appraisals is that now the county can use some of the increase in revenue to fund our Veterans Service Office.
Again I am not saying the schools did not need what they passed the bonds for.  The new Cameron ISD football field looks great.  The baseball fields are also going to be a great addition to the community.  No doubt Milano ISD needed their bond improvements as well, but why couldn’t other ways be found to fund the improvements?  Perhaps reducing spending in other areas to help pay a portion of the cost would have been an option.
Economic development is always a big issue for the county.  Yet how do high taxes help bring businesses to our area?  They don't.  We can offer tax abatements, but the bottom line is that sooner or later abatements end and they have to face the high taxes.  Any business looking to locate takes into consideration that they will face high taxes at some point in time.
I went to a school built in the forties and we had no air conditioning.  All we had was a big oscillating fan in the front of the room with lots of windows to open and a Reznor heater for winter in the back of the room.  However, I would venture to say that we learned more then than students do today.  Yes they perhaps learn more information because more information exists today, but they can't do math without a calculator and their decision making skills are based on "Google it."  Not to mention our educators have deemed cursive writing as antiquated.  How will students be able to sign their name?
Point is our elected officials need to look at other options to fund our governmental entities.  As taxpayers we can't just raise our income when we decide we need a new car or home improvements.  We have to find ways to live within our means.  It is about time the taxing entities learned to live within their means.  It is unfortunate, but whatever tax decreases if any, come out of Austin will be eaten up by increased appraisals and "needs" of the taxing entities.   
Milam County has always been a conservative county, even when the Democrats were in control.  We have elected individuals who claim to be conservative they need to step up to the plate and identify ways to fund projects without increasing taxes.  Or at least postpone them till they can afford them, or it will never end.




Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Been February since I last blogged, but it has not been because there has been nothing to blog about.  I've been having trouble with picking a subject and getting a blog down before a new subject pops up.

The Judge's article on economic development in February made me think about economic development in Milam County.  That was one of his major election promises along with several others.  Thought I might give a report on where we are now, but then along came the Veterans issue.

Veterans and public support managed to convince a majority of the members of the Commissioners Court to vote to reinstate administrative assistance for Ken Janicek.  The vote was four to one with the Judge being the only vote against.

Then transparency came to my mind.  The Judge has done an excellent job of bringing more transparency to county government.  Unfortunately it is pretty much the same transparency we get from all levels of government.  They tell us what they want us to hear.

I wonder why the many workshops that the Judge holds are not better publicized.  Like the one on March 12th where the Veterans Service Office was again discussed, and he stated at that meeting there would be on assistant for the Veterans Office next year.

Now I have to wonder why that workshop was not better publicized.  You hear about the court meetings on the radio and about the Community Information Meetings in the media, why not the workshops?  Workshops are public meetings too.

Please do not misunderstand that I am in anyway referring that the meeting was not "POSTED" as required by law.  As stated in Section 551.002, Open Meetings Requirement; "Every regular, special, or called meeting of a governmental body shall be open to the public..." 

Section 551.049 states "A county governmental body shall post notice of each meeting on a bulletin board at a place convenient to the public in the county courthouse.  I wonder why select meetings are given great media coverage and others are posted "conveniently" in the courthouse?  Seems like a website might be a more convenient spot for posting then the courthouse...easier for most of us to get to.

Or perhaps there are things that are going to be discussed that someone might not want to bring a great deal of public attention, such as the total reversal of a court decision made several weeks before.  The comments at the workshop also brought up the issue of the dire financial straits the county is in.  My real question is who can see into the future and claim the 23,000 dollar cut will save the county from financial disaster?

The Judge has continually played the we are broke card in his public offerings, but then will turn right around and crow about the 750,000 dollar reserve the county carried over into 2015.  Not his desired level of a million, but also nowhere near broke.

Now consider the fact that 2015 appraisals are in the mail.  Got mine over the weekend and was somewhat surprised at what some folks now think property is worth in Milam County.  I got to work in the Tax Office on Monday April the 6th, in Cameron and one person commented their tax bill was going to increase tenfold over last year's based on the new appraisals.

So, on March 12th during the workshop meeting Milam County was going to be broke in 2016 according to Judge Barkemeyer, and now the appraisals are going up countywide.  Some say the coiunty could see another five to six hundred thousand in revenue from the appraisal increases.  Surely out of that money the court can find enough to help keep Milam County's Veteran Services the best in Central Texas.  Our Veterans have earned it.

Bottom line is that there is a lot to blog about in Milam County.  There is a lot that we as voters and property owners should be aware of.  Sad thing is that most folks just don't care. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


I have been blessed with being employed for the last few weeks in one of my old positions with Milam County.  I have been working in the One-Stop in Rockdale for the County Tax Assessor Collector.  Don't anybody get upset...just a temporary thing while an employee recovers from surgery.

Those that have been to get registration or pay taxes in Rockdale know that the Veterans Service Officer is located just across the waiting room from the Tax Office.  The location has given me an excellent view of the comings and goings of, and the number of clients the Veterans Service Officer works with.

I mention this because there was some mention of Ken Janicek's  and another individual's presentation to the last Commissioners Court about the need to reinstate the full time assistant for that office.  After almost a month sitting across the waiting room I have to agree.

I have always been a supporter of our veterans.  My father was a vet, my uncles and many other family members served our country.  I realize that while my family members survived their service with little need for the VA in later life there are many more that need and or require those services today.

Some have said the cut to a half time position for the office was a money saving move by the Judge and Commissioners.  However, if you check the budget you will see that the full salary is still there.  The person in that position was moved to a half position in the District Attorney's Office.  At my high school two halves always made a whole.  The whole salary, benefits and all is still there so, why the changes?

In my conversation with the DA he indicated that he could continue to provide equal service to his clientele without the half time position.  I have tried to find some other logical answer for why the position was cut, but can only come up with it was what the Judge wanted.

In talking with some of the Commissioners they all seemed to support the Veteran's Service Officer and understood our need to support our veterans.  I have heard a lot of other reasons as to why the position was cut, but none really hold water.  

My time working this month has allowed me to see Ken be interrupted too many times to count by the telephone while he was interviewing and assisting clients in the office with paperwork.  At the same time three, sometimes more clients were waiting to see him.  Ken tries to make appointments and keep a schedule, but that is really hard to do when you are having to answer a phone and interview at the same time.

Back in April of 2013 I blogged about the cuts and how I did not agree with them because of my persoanl experience with assistance in obtaining benefits for my mother-in-law.  Now I have first hand personal experience of seeing the numbers of veterans served in the Rockdale office.

Ken is in Rockdale on Tuesday and Wednesday of each week.  He is in Cameron on Monday, Thursday and Friday.  His days in Rockdale result in the Cameron office being open only half the day Tuesday and Wednesday.  The other issue with half day support is that in Rockdale there is no support and in Cameron only half day support.

Now there are some out there that say we do not even need an office in Milam County.  I have noticed the majority of these folks that say that are not veterans, are veterans who do not need or utilize VA services or can afford to go to Temple or Waco, or are just the idiots that complain about everything.

Last week the Judge had a column about the legislature and unfunded mandates.  He mentioned how he will be fighting the legislature's move to regulate the Commissioners Court's  ability to raise taxes in the future and speak out against unfunded mandates.  He continues in the article to make sure that we all understand he will cut services if necessary.  The Veterans Office could well be in his sights.

I wonder if he truly realizes who has paid the price that he can go to Austin and speak out against government.  He and all the other elected officials have sworn to do their best for Milam County.  It's high time that Milam County does its best for our veterans who gave us and continue to protect the freedoms we enjoy today.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


One of the big happenings for 2015 in Milam County will be the implementation of the projects financed by the road grants received last year.   In 2014 the state set aside a big pot of money for county road repair.   

The process that made the funding available was created by the State Legislature in 2007.  Senate Bill 1266 created Transportation Reinvestment Zones (TRZ).  In 2013 the legislature created County Energy TRZ’s with the passage of Senate Bill 1747.  This bill was passed to specifically aid counties that had suffered damage to county roads from oil field traffic.

A County Energy Reinvestment Zone, or CERTZ, is a specific contiguous zone, in a county that is determined to be affected because of oil and gas exploration and production activities, around a planned transportation project that is established as a method to facilitate capture of the property tax increment arising from the planned project.  In laymen’s terms that means it’s an area that will benefit from the road project and as a result any tax increase in that area will be committed to transportation projects in that area for the next ten years.

I have been hearing a lot of comments on the roads that will be paved and other great things that will happen as a result of the two million plus dollars we will be receiving from the state grant.  Truth is, according to the Commissioners, not going to be all that much paving going on.  Lots of gravel and culvert and bridge repair on existing roads but not a lot of paving.

Some folks talk about how much could be done with two million on the roads in Milam County.  Not sure they are up to date with the costs involved in paving roads in this day and time.  Some engineers estimate costs could exceed 250,000 dollars per mile depending on the circumstances.  Congrats to the Commissioners on getting some help, but remember we still are going to have gravel roads in Milam County.

 As a matter of fact the State of Texas is planning on converting some Farm to Market roads to gravel due to the cost of repairing and maintaining paved roads.  Texas is not the only state to pursue this option.  As the cost of constructing and maintaining paved roads increases many other states including North and South Dakota, Iowa, Indiana and Michigan are reverting to gravel roads.  There are also numerous counties across the country that are looking at reverting to gravel.

Bottom line is providing transportation for our growing population is going to become more and more expensive.  More taxes you say?  You can only go to the well so many times before its dry. One paved to gravel article had a comment on the growing move toward gravel replacing pavement that said,  "...they used to slide in here at 70, now I guess it'll be 30."  Maybe it is time we all slowed down a bit, especially on taxes.

Monday, January 26, 2015


Switching parties, cool or not cool?  The question that always comes up when someone switches parties to run for office WHY?  Change is the one thing we can count on in life and as we age we become more and more aware of the changes going on around us.

Did you know that most of the currently elected officials in Milam County were at one time Democrats?  Even Judge Barkemeyer was a Democrat.  He was a Democratic Precinct Chair at one time.  Of course he switched parties before he ran for Milam County Judge.

Did those that changed change because they were running for office, or because the parties changed to the point that they switched to the one that more closely represented their views?  Knowing most of the county officials as well as I do I have to say that most of them are conservatives and therefore the change came because the Republican Party is the more conservative party.

Yes, I do believe that there are still some conservative Democrats somewhere in the universe.  But as one person told me recently, "You cannot be conservative and be a real Democrat these days."

So why do candidates switch  parties?  There are a number of reasons that an elected official, or someone seeking office, might choose to switch parties. One reason is ethical obligation: the person has views that are no longer aligned with those of the current party.

A second reason is to gain power and influence. The incumbent may be a member of the minority party in a legislature and would like to gain the advantages of being in the majority party, such as the potential to chair a committee.

A disaffected incumbent who might not hold a leadership position or feels ignored or mistreated by the majority party might join the minority party with the expectation of holding a leadership position in the minority party and if currently elected, having the complete support of the minority party for re-election, who would certainly want to have more elected officials in their ranks.

Another reason is simply to get elected. This may be the primary reason when the opposing party's base in a constituency is reaching a size that threatens the safe reelection of the incumbent or the elected official fears being defeated in the primary.

Personally, my switch came about because of reason number one; my views are no longer aligned with the Democratic party and have not been for a long long time.  As for others that have changed I can not tell you their reasons. 

What I found on the internet about party switching pretty much indicates to me that our country is moving to more conservative voters even though the liberals seem to be in control at this point in time.  From my count more D's have switched parties than R's.  One author even surmised that as we age we get more conservative.  Perhaps it's just that as we age we get more life experience and therefore are more intelligent.

Friday, January 23, 2015


Let me preface the rest of this blog with a disclaimer this is not a personal attack on any office holder it is simply an attempt to clarify what has been said several times by one of our local elected officials.  I am not sure whether it is intentional or simply a misstatement of the facts.

The latest mention of what I am referring to came in the County Judge's article of December 17, 2014.  The article titled Fine Collection Report states,"...This is only the amounts retained in the county; another 80% of this amount that they also collect we're required to send to the state of Texas as well."  The statement caught my eye as I have heard this said in Commissioners Court and at the time thought it was simply a misstatement.

The reality is that 0% of a fine in County or Justice Court is sent to the state.  If the fine in a court case is $2,000 every penny of it goes into the general fund.  However, the Judge might have been referring to court costs which are also a part of any judgement in a court case, and are in fact a much more complicated matter.  Court costs differ by court, and by case. 

The State Comptroller's web site has some good information on court costs and when and where they apply  There are many many court cost categories and some court costs are only applicable in certain counties.  Kind of a strange deal when you think about it.  

Court costs are used to fund many different areas of the court at the state and local level.  Some of the court costs do in fact remain in the county, but are dedicated to be used only in certain areas.  For instance the record maintenance fee is to be used by the county clerk to maintain court records.

A speeding ticket for ten miles over in Milam County Justice Court will cost you $155.00.  Of that $54.90 is the fine and that goes to the county.  According to an example receipt I obtained from a local JP the rest goes to court costs.  Some of the court costs areas include the MVF moving violation fine, IDF indigent defense fund, TFC local traffic fund, CHS courthouse security, SJRF jury fund, JCTF justice court technology fund, STF state traffic fine and CCC consolidate court costs.

As you can see there are a lot of different court costs, and those above are just in Justice Court. Out of the 155.00 traffic ticket I mentioned above a total of 75.90 goes to benefit the local government.  While some of the total is initially sent to Austin it is eventually returned to the local level.  

For instance the IDF or Indigent Defense Fund court cost goes to pay for indigent defense costs incurred by the county, and CHS Courthouse Security Fund goes to provide for local courthouse security.  So, while initially the fine, or 35.5% stays in the county a part of the 64.5% sent to the state does comes back to the county in some form or fashion.

At the county court level a typical court judgement could involve a fine of 0 to 4,000 dollars and up to 750 dollars in court costs.  Again the county would retain the entire fine and some of the court costs would go to fund local programs.  

Court costs are set and mandated by those in Austin the local courts just collect them.  By the way, the county also receives a percentage for "administrative costs" for collecting court costs for the state.

Now with all this being said I held off publishing this for awhile because it really did not, to my satisfaction, tell the whole story on court costs.  However, my determination paid off.  With the help of Nicole in Representative Farney's office I came across a publication titled, Study of the Necessity of Certain Court Costs and Fees in Texas.

This is an excellent 155 page report published in September of 2014 and gives the reader an excellent review of court costs and fees and where they came from and where they go.  Definitely worth the read if you are interested in anything there is to know about court costs and fees in Texas Courts.

You can access the report in pdf form via the following link: