Commissioners hear an earful at budget hearing

By Curtis Chubb – Roles were reversed at the first public hearing on the proposed 2016 Milam County budget. During the last two budget meetings at the courthouse, the elected county officials did the talking while the citizens did the listening. On Monday, the citizens did the talking – and they had a lot to say.

In fact, the citizens had so much to say that their budget-oriented orations continued into the commissioners court meeting which followed the public hearing.

Let’s focus on the two main bones of contention.
There was a continuation of last year’s debate concerning the veterans service office. This year, however, there was a difference: about half of the people who spoke thought that the veterans service office could be eliminated. At present, $51,000 is budgeted for the office.
The people (and they were all veterans) commenting that the veterans service office could be closed stated that the same services are offered by the five Milam County veterans’ organizations.
The people commenting that the veterans service office should not only be kept open but the county should add a secretary position stated that the veterans service officer was not only well-trained but offered personalized assistance to the veterans and their families.
People supporting the Veterans Service office also argued that the Milam County Museum’s proposed budget of $41,000 should be cut completely and the freed-up money used to bolster the veterans service office budget.
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Two of the office’s supporters contrasted money used for the maintenance of inanimate objects in the museum to that of money used to help veterans who lost body parts. One supporter also made some personal comments about the county judge having a conflict of interest in regards to the museum.
Although Milam County Clerk Barbara Vansa delivered her budget-related comments during the commissioners court meeting, the comments will be summarized here.
Vansa’s primary concern is that if the current budget plans are not changed, the county clerk’s office will lose one employee. The budget supports three full-time employees and one part-time employee for her office. In contrast, the district clerk’s office will have four full-time employees and one part-time employee and the tax assessor/collector’s office will have five full-time employees and one part-time employee.
Vansa said that if the responsibilities of the district clerk and tax assessor offices are compared with those of the county clerk’s office, the commissioners court should understand that the county clerk’s office needs at least one additional full-time employee.
Vansa then gave a comprehensive review of the county clerk’s responsibilities which include keeping and maintaining a variety of records, keeping records of births and deaths, attending continuing education classes, increasing public access to the records, and administering elections.
In relation to the elections, Vansa pointed out that the most-likely employee who would be let go is the elections clerk because she has the least years of service.
In closing, Vansa stated, “Milam County needs these employees to keep this office going.”
Other comments made by citizens included the following:
• The county departments should purchase supplies as a group to increase purchasing power – it was also suggested that the cities could join with the county in forming a purchasing consortium;
• Do not raise taxes. “We have to live within our means;”
• Since the population growth along the I-35 corridor is taking our water, the state legislators should be asked to provide budgetary relief for our county;
• The Milam County Museum’s budget should be cut because it is not providing a service and can find other funding sources;
• If someone can do a better job than the county judge, they should consider running for the office in the upcoming election;
• Consider replacing the four full-time constables which cost $216,781 with either part-time constables or one full-time constable;
• Consider replacing the four justices-of-the-peace which cost of $396,522 with either part-time justices-of-the-peace or one full-time justice-of-the-peace with a clerk; and
• Hire a county-wide “road engineer” to determine what work needs to be done and how to allocate equipment and employees
The proposed 2016 budget, it is posted on the Milam County website for public review.
The next and last public hearing on the proposed 2016 Milam County budget is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 2, at 9 a.m. at the Milam County Courthouse.

- Special to the Herald