Evans presents 'state of county' address to RLAT
By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor
Bandera County Judge Richard Evans offered his third annual State of the County address to members of the Ranchers and Landowners of Texas-Bandera County on March 22. More than 50 members and guests attended the organization's bi-monthly meeting, which RLAT President John Payne described as "one of our two most popular meetings."
After noting that Evans is currently serving his fifth term, Payne added, "If anyone knows what makes this county tick, it's Judge Evans."
Assessing the crowd, Evans said, "I feel like I'm talking to an endangered species when I speak to ranchers and landowners. We have over 20,000 people in the county and Texas has gained four new seats in the House of Representatives, but rural Texas is still going to lose two seats." He advised organizations concerned with rural matters, such as RLAT, to reach a consensus on important issues and present that accord to elected officials with a unified voice. "If you represent 100 to 200 people, it makes a difference."
Describing himself and the commissioners as "conservative and fiscally responsible," Evans said that Bandera County has a fund balance of $15 million. He defined a fund balance as "subtracting revenue from expenses and what's left is the fund balance."
Evans spoke with pride about the success of the new county jail. "Before, we spent $600,000 a year housing prisoners, now the jail has generated $400,000. That's a swing of $1 million into the general fund. The bond payment is 51/2 cents per $100, but the payment is to our bond and not to someone else's."
Evans continued, "The county is in good fiscal condition, but it hasn't always been that way." He anticipated a rocky road ahead, depending on actions taken by legislators in Austin.
Evans predicted this session of the Texas Legislature would be a tough one for counties, cities and schools. "If services haven't gone away, the legislators haven't made enough cuts. If the state doesn't truly trim the budget, some things (will have to go) away."
As he recalled, "A college professor once said, 'Services are a function of money.' I didn't know what that meant then, but I do now." According to Evans, as more people move to the Hill Country, the demand for services will increase, citing San Antonio and Boerne as prime examples.
He also anticipated the state would reduce the budget deficit by channeling unfunded mandates to the local governmental level. "If counties are required to do it, the state must either send money or make it optional."
Funding these mandates would put county commissioners into the untenable position of having to increase taxes to generate necessary revenue. "Further tax increases would put us in a rollback situation - or we would have to cut services. I've been in one rollback and I never want to be in another."
However, Evans noted, "If a rollback passes, the county's budget would have to be cut by 8 percent."
He referenced HJR 56, which proposes a constitutional amendment that restricts the power of the legislature to mandate requirements on local governments. Essentially, HJR 56 would prohibit further unfunded mandates. Introduced in February, the proposed amendment has 96 sponsors and has been referred to the State Affairs Committee.
"For it to succeed, 220 counties would have to approve HJR 56 on the ballot," Evans said. He urged the audience to call District 73 Rep. Doug Miller and support the measure. "Rep. Miller is onboard, but your words will make an impact. (The legislators) do listen."
Describing Miller as "a good advocate" for rural counties," Evans said the state representative had sponsored HB 2317, legislation designed to give counties increased authority to address development, roads and density. "I've been working on this for 14 years," Evans quipped, "and this is my third or fourth state representative." In fact, Evans spent the latter part of last week and the beginning of this week in Austin, lobbying for the passage of HB 2317.
The bill, he said would give commissioners the authority to control development. "Road improvements should be borne by the developer who would simply pass on the cost. Otherwise, everybody has to pay and that creates inequity." The bill also assists in controlling subdivision density and allows county officials to address impervious cover, flood issues, possible decrease of aquifer recharge and setbacks. "This is not zoning, but it would prevent a drag raceway from being constructed next to a working ranch," Evans said.
"Our economy is based on tourism. We have to have land, birds, wildlife and water. However, to date, the legislature has been unwilling to give the counties increased authority," Evans continued. "The commissioners court has been a strong advocate for private property rights; however, we walk a fine line and there's never an answer that satisfies everyone."
Pictured: RLAT President John Payne welcome Bandera County Judge Richard Evans to the March meeting where Evans presented his annual State of the County address.