$24,781,224 is a very substantial amount of money. It is also the amount of revenue your local Wharton County officials must collect to fund our ongoing 2019 operations, maintenance, and new projects.
Today’s column takes a closer look at county operations to see which departments and services receive the most local tax dollar funding.
Approximately $16.4 million in recurring expenses is appropriated for employee salaries and benefits; $5 million is expensed for services and charges (indigent health care, jail expenses, bond premiums for elected officials, indigent attorney fees, property insurance, postage, computer maintenance, copy machines and utilities); and supplies run $3.4 million (precinct road materials, jail food, diesel fuel, and most equipment under $1,000 like fax machines, printers, office supplies, law enforcement’s handheld radios, console equipment for police cars, etc.)
It is important to note that no local tax dollars are currently being spent to pay down annual debt service loans. Your Wharton County continues to operate 100 percent debt free for a sixth consecutive year. Bottom Line: County officials rely on fund balance savings to pay cash for patrol cars, excavators, and road maintenance equipment rather than borrowing money and incurring finance charges. In 2019, Wharton County purchased $2,044,500 in one-time capital expenditures.
Governmental Purpose: To gain a clearer perspective of where your county’s $24,781,224 is being expensed, let’s categorize our appropriations according to their function: Roadways get $5,567,539; public safety $4,208,214; general government $4,911,566 (county offices such as auditor, treasurer, tax assessor-collector, elections, etc.); corrections (jail) $3,061,987; judicial $2,376,319; drainage $1,906,887; cultural/recreation $1,109,067 (libraries, historical museum, etc.); health/welfare $883,019 (indigent support, Meals on Wheels); environmental $304,546 (permits/inspections, Emergency Management, etc.), juvenile services $263,961, and Agriculture Extension $188,129.
Please note the lion’s share of your local tax dollars are being spent on public safety ($9,910,481) and roads, bridges, & drainage ($7,474,426). Wharton County taxpayers have always insisted that ensuring public safety and providing dependable infrastructure are exactly where they want local tax dollars to be spent.
With each passing year, Austin lawmakers continue to pass down more unexpected charges like reorganizing district court operations, requiring 24-hour mental health consultations for jail inmates, indigent health care, judicial e-filing, motor vehicle registration, and special elections.
All of these many new requirements, state mandated expenditures, and added hires force local officials to generate added revenue by either raising taxes … or cutting funding from existing programs and services. To further explain, lets now break down which county operations are non-discretionary and untouchable….and which are discretionary and vulnerable to becoming the funding mechanism for unsolicited state initiatives.
Non-discretionary expenditures are not easily reduced and/or eliminated because their charge is compelled by statute: 1) sheriff’s office - $3,656,664; 2) jail - $3,061,987; 3) district & county attorney - $831,913; 4) indigent health care - $790,441; 5) four justices of the peace - $647,855; 6) maintenance of courthouses and other buildings - $630,863; 7) district & county courts - $609,301; 8) indigent criminal defense - $290,000; 9) juvenile probation $263,961; 10) elections - $156,125, 11) environmental control - $106,307; 12) mental health transports - $92,578 ; and 13) mandatory outside audits-$51,200.
Discretionary expenditures fund an array of important local governmental services that are not entirely necessitated by statute. Short of raising taxes, these following discretionary line-items often get raided to offset budget cuts and/or generate funding for new state mandated directives: 1) roads and bridges - $5,567,539; 2) drainage - $1,906,887; 3) libraries - $1,064,067; 4) county Ag Extension services - $188,129; 5) county historical museum - $45,000 ; 6) veteran services - $86,112; 7) Emergency Management $76,185, and 8) the DARE program - $30,543.
My fellow citizens, it is imperative that all local taxpayers know and understand where your county tax dollars are being spent and recognize that the state and federal government are placing more and more constraints on local services and expenditures.
As your county judge, I give you my assurance that each of your elected representatives understand and are aware of the fiscal challenges of our day and we will definitely continue to be conservative, responsible, and practical in our budgeting for county taxpayer wants and needs.