As the county moves into the next fiscal year Oct. 1, a number of changes are being discussed and until now, I have waited to voice my point of view. Specifically I am speaking of the Elderly Services policy change regarding the transportation of dialysis patients.
Until Oct. 1, the county policy had been that transportation services would be provided to dialysis patients only for a period of 60 days to allow time to align riders with state-provided resources or personal transportation options. Each new client was required to sign an agreement of understanding.
After 60 days, the county would no longer provide transportation. This was primarily because dialysis is required three times per week. Because the dialysis centers are located in Victoria and Beeville, it became apparent early on that this was an inefficient way to do things.
During this time I had one dialysis patient come to my office to ask for more time. Due to economic reasons, the strain on her family was too great and she feared that not being able to attend dialysis treatment would put her life in jeopardy. Against the policy and overruling the decision of the elderly services director, I agreed to continue services for this individual until they were able to get back on track financially.
Three years later the county was still providing services to this individual. This also created a precedent where if the county was providing a service for one, we must provide it for all. I take full responsibility for this error in judgment.
Instead of leading with my head, I lead with my heart. Government cannot be the answer in all situations. Yes, government is by the people and for the people but personal accountability is a value that I firmly believe in.
Something else that went into the decision to end services was a letter addressed to me and signed by every elderly services driver refusing to continue transporting these three individuals to dialysis treatment based on rude and demeaning behavior.
Also, about 20 percent of the transportation budget was being spent on these three individuals. I believe that allocating resources more effectively allows us to serve more people and keeping the doors open at the elderly services department is more important.
When it comes to our loved ones, every day is a gift and I wish that the county to provide more, but my responsibility is to make decisions in the best interest of all Refugio County citizens.
In the midst of a shaky economy that is affecting most of the country, the State of Texas and Refugio County in particular, continue to see economic growth and prosperity. According to recent employment data provided by Texas Workforce Solutions, Refugio County has an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent compared to almost 9 percent nationally and 7 percent in Texas.
I believe that the county’s investments in economic development that were made in the years prior to the economic downturn in 2009 have made the biggest difference overall. In 2007, when I came into office, I inherited a budget that had been slashed and the investment in economic development was $15,000 per year.
Since I have been in office, Refugio County has invested more than $230,000 in economic development, resulting in over $100 million in new business investment. In fact, county values increased by more than $300 million last year alone.
In fiscal year 2013 the overall tax rate will be reduced by 13 percent and 7 percentage points.
In other words, county taxpayers will pay less this year. Economic development has secondary effects as well. Now that Refugio County is perceived to be pro-business and more businesses are opening their doors, other taxing entities are seeing an increase in tax revenue as well.
For example, with the Southcross Energy projects up and running in the Bonnie View area, Woodsboro ISD taxpayers are seeing a significant drop in their tax bills.
Another adage is “Victory has many fathers. Defeat is an orphan.” While it is easy to jump on the bandwagon and say “I’m for economic development,” it’s much more difficult to actually do something about it.
I remember distinctly one commissioner voting against using public funds to encourage private investment. In particular, the Valient Energy project. The $100,000 investment that the county made turned in $2.4 million being pumped into the local economy. In fact, this commissioner pushed for reducing funds for economic development from $40,000 to $20,000 in 2011 and initially opposed increasing economic development by $5,000 in 2012.
Yet, when asked why he voted against the budget I proposed this year he said it was because I cut economic development. Actually, my proposed budget did not cut the economic development budget, my budget kept the Community Development Foundation budget the same at $25,000.
The difference was that the Community Development Foundation was asking for $50,000 and the vast majority of their budget was going to salaries for the new director and his full-time secretary. I am convinced that the commissioner voted against the budget for personal reasons and not because he wanted to invest more in economic development.
Had I not proposed redirecting funds from our new computer system allocation, that same commissioner might have voted against the budget again even though my proposed budget actually decreased the tax burden on county taxpayers.
Not once has he proposed anything to the court about economic development projects. If anything, he has been the first to voice opposition. He can disagree with my decision to redirect unspent funds in last year’s budget to replace two animal control vehicles that were each more than 20 years old and with monthly maintenance bills that were surging, but I made an executive decision to stop throwing money at an unfixable problem.
He mocked our budget success this year saying “we patted ourselves on the back” and that this was “like a slap in the face” but what he didn’t say was this year, because of the budget changes and tough decisions made last year in my proposed budget, more than $800,000 is returning to the reserves.
He was uninformed and made a statement without knowing all the information. My issue isn’t with the commissioner’s opposition to my decision to redirect funds to buy two vehicles for animal control, it’s with him not voicing his objection to me directly and instead using the County Press to grandstand.
The bottom line is my responsibilities as county judge go beyond making one person or group of people happy. I operate with integrity and transparency not often seen in county government.
Every single decision I have made has been in the best interests of all county residents, not just taxpayers, family or friends. I am proud of the job I have done and I never take for granted the awesome responsibility that the people in Refugio County have bestowed upon me.
It is a great honor. And it is a great burden. But it is an honor and burden that I accept and for which I am accountable.