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:


Monday, January 12, 2015


Happy New Year to everyone. I hope that your start to 2015 was a good one. I know that Milam County employees have been looking to the new year to see just how the raise passed by the Commissioners Court will be affecting their paycheck in the coming year.

A raise is always a good thing, right? Well maybe yes maybe no. I guess you could say that a raise is always a good thing because it means that you are moving up the pay scale. However, it does not necessarily mean that you will be putting more cash in the bank.

Historically Milam County has been an entity that gave across the board raises. While I was in office the Commissioners Court instituted a merit based raise system that allowed the department heads to reward employees based on performance rather that just occupying a chair. For whatever reason the current leadership rescinded that policy upon taking office in 2011.

Personally I have always been opposed to across the board raises. Common sense tells me that an across the board raise treats all employees equally. Those that are outstanding employees receive the same reward for their efforts as the employees that are simply filling a chair. That cannot do anything to help morale or encourage improvement in employee performance within the ranks.

Now back to the raise is always a good thing comment. All Milam County employees received a 2.75% raise. All elected officials, except the County Judge, also received the increase. Not sure why the Judge opted out of the raise except that it might be some sort of a symbolic move to help balance the budget. Personally I believe he deserved the increase too.
The current entry level salary for Milam County is 21,500 dollars per year. It is higher for some skilled positions. Top salary paid by Milam County goes to the District Court Reporter. She receives $62,400 per year. Salary differences is one thing that I believe makes the across the board raise a bad idea. The bigger the salary the bigger the raise. Not always the right thing to do.

On the low end of the scale the person making 21,500 gets an annual raise of $591.25 before taxes. With the county paying every two weeks that means 26 pay periods for the year and a gain of $22.74 per pay check before taxes.  On the other end of the spectrum a $60,000 dollar a year employee receives a $1650 per year raise or $63.46 per pay check.  Neither one that big of an increase.

I am not sure that this has happened to any county employees as a result of this pay raise, but an increase could move some folks into a higher tax bracket.  Of course this would result in higher withholding of income tax and social security.  If the increase in withholding surpasses the pay increase a net loss results in take home pay.  

Can't happen you say?  I certainly hope that it doesn't, but I can attest to the fact it can.  Happened to me when I was working for the Extension Service.  I know this was not the intention of the Commissioners Court when they approved the raise, but it is one of those unintended things that could happen as a result of good intentions.

All that being said, the real reason someone should get a raise is because of performance.  Yes, cost of living should be considered, but even then the lower paid individuals should not receive the same percentage increase the top paid employees do. 

If you are going to give across the board raises perhaps an amount should be considered rather than a percentage.  That way everyone truly gets the same amount.  Bottom line for me is that employees need to be paid based on performance.  If they do a good job they deserve to be rewarded for it.  When those that do not perform do not get a raise they should be told why and then get the boot if they do not change their ways.

I constantly hear comments from the general public that  government should be run more like a business.  In the real world employees are considered for raises based on their performance.  Department heads are better able to judge job performance of their employees and better able to identify those that need raises and those that do not.  

The Judge and Commissioners do not have the day to day contact with employees in other departments and can not tell you whether they do a good job or not.  The court should allow those that hire and fire their employees determine what if any increase in pay is warranted for their employees, and provide a mechanism for merit increases to keep the good employees working for Milam County.