Judge Evans advises, 'Don't overgraze pastures'
By Evelyn Snyder BCC Contributor
Bandera County Judge Richard Evans offered his annual "State of the County" address to members of the Ranchers and Landowners Association of Texas on Tuesday, Jan. 28, discussing everything from the county's recent AA credit rating to the Hill Country Coalition.
When he was growing up in Bandera County, Evans recalled that most people were like RLAT members - they were ranchers and landowners. While that may no longer be the case, he noted that people in Bandera County are still committed to taking care of themselves and their neighbors, making this a very special place to live.
Bandera County's job is to take care of most of the necessities of life, including courts, records, EMS, law enforcement, and roads and bridges. However, Evans explained, since the county is an extension of the state government, the State of Texas tells the county what it can and cannot do.
Evans emphasized that a county can only do what is specifically written into a state statute - while cities can do almost anything. "If a citizen gets mad because the county does something, it is because the state tells them they have to," Evans said. "Conversely, if the county doesn't do something, it's because the state hasn't told them they could or has told them they can't."
Evans also emphasized that each resident has a voice in - and impact on - county government. "The answer may not be what you want to hear but it must always be factual," he said, adding, "If you have a problem, you need to let your officials know." In fact, Evans encouraged citizens to bombard officials - whether state or local - with questions and comments because "... if officials don't hear from constituents, they assume everything is okay."
He also noted proudly that Bandera County's credit rating was recently raised to AA. This welcome upgrading took a concerted effort by a lot of people, including the commissioners court and many elected officials, according to Evans. "The new rating means the county can refinance the Jail and Justice Center in a few years which will result in significant savings," he noted.
Other good fiscal news includes the county's fund balance is now at 33 percent. "Regulations state we have to have a 25 percent fund balance so we are very solid in our reserves," Evans explained, adding, "The current fund balance is bigger than the entire budget when I took office 16 years ago." The county has grown approximately 80 percent in those 16 years. Evans described Bandera County as "in good shape financially and morally."
On the other hand, the county and its residents are constantly being inundated with rules made by "unelected officials," he said. "In the next sessions in Austin and DC, there will be a lot of talk about the rule of capture regarding water. Will ground water as well as surface water become property of the state?" Evans asked. "The state tells us they are not raising your taxes, but they're instituting fees - which are basically taxes," Evans said. Closer to home, Bandera County has not raised taxes in five years.
"The 9-1-1 fee on phone bills is supposed to be returned to the counties for emergency services. In actuality, the state is holding back part of the money in a special fund so they can claim there is a balanced budget," Evans explained. "The monies not returned to the county must be made up from our local ad valorem taxes - real and property. This becomes an unfunded mandate by omission."
One of the most important rights is private property rights but these rights can be taken away by regulation, through the backdoor. "Texas has the best government money can buy!" Evans quipped.
After 10 years, Bandera County is finally getting a new animal control facility, which is one of the county's last capital projects. Other than the Pipe Creek compactor station, Bandera County owns all its property - none of it is rented or leased.
As a member of the Hill Country Coalition, Evans works with other Hill Country judges who advocate extending to counties authority to require developers to fund part of the cost of roads, rather than taxpayers; and the ability to ask developers to prove groundwater is sufficient before marketing and selling lots in proposed subdivisions. Unfortunately, the Hill Country Coalition has received less than enthusiastic support from elected officials in Austin, he said.
In closing, Evans stated, "We're about to overgraze our pasture and must be careful not to kill tourism by overdevelopment. Bandera County relies on tourism. We have to protect that. Our economic development is tourism."