Monday, April 5, 2010

Laws don’t apply in McLennan County

Texas Local Government Code Sec. 111.062 makes it illegal for the County Judge to serve as the Chief Budget Officer in a county with a population of more than 225.000.

Some time in 2006, McLennan County exceeded that threshold. County Judge Jim Lewis ignored the law saying the law was not relevant until the census had been performed.

McLennan County Judge Lewis told News Channel 25 they will prepare to appoint a separate budget officer after the next official 2010 census.

Several statutes specifically use the term census when establishing a population baseline. Sec. 111.062 does not. Without a specific reference to the census, the law is applicable when the population exceeded 225,000.

Statutes containing census language.
Sec. 251.74.  AIRPORT AND STADIUM AS WET AREAS.  (a)  This section applies to any county:  (1)  that has a population of more than 240,000, according to the most recent federal census;

Population shall be according to the last preceding federal census.

Art. 102.014. COURT COSTS FOR CHILD SAFETY FUND IN MUNICIPALITIES.  (a) The governing body of a municipality with a population greater than 850,000 according to the most recent federal decennial census

From the Waco Trib 3/31/10 - “I always laugh and say that if I knew what I was getting into, I would have never run for the office,” Lewis said.

For taxpayers, ignoring the law is not a laughing matter. County Judge Jim Lewis did not have to face any questions when either Natasha Chen of News 25 or Regina Dennis of the Trib interviewed him on the subject. Lewis is counting on no one looking into the law.

The only reason Ray Meadows and Jim Lewis are suddenly worried about appointing  a Chief Budget Officer is because both have opponents and it is an election year.

If this daunting task, preparation of the annual budget, is being taken off the plate of the County Judge, why not reduce his salary and staff to fund the new position of Chief Budget Officer? If you already read the statute, the other option available to the Court is to appoint the County Auditor as CBO. You may not remember last year just before one newly elected member took office, the court voted to eliminate post retirement health insurance benefits for new hires. The argument at the time was new regulations made the calculations overwhelming for the Auditor. Since the Court relieved the Auditor of significant responsibilities, his salary should be reduced if he doesn’t want to do the job of CBO.  Only in Government can a persons job responsibilities be reduced and they suffer no reduction in pay but also continue to get annual cost of living increases. The newest member of the Court would do well to honor his campaign platform to run things more like a business.


  1. Regarding the County Auditor's calculations of future liabilities on the County Balance Sheet, the task would be difficult, if not impossible, to approach accuracy (given unknowns in health care costs, number of retirees becoming eligible after their 20th year of service, etc.). It was a good thing taking this off the table; at least now, the number of employees eligible is a known factor (still have to guess when they retire). More importantly for the taxpayer, and probably the real reason that this decision was made, is that it will save the taxpayer around $400 per month (current dollars) for every new-hire not receiving the monthly benefit.

    As to the budget preparation, it is too late for the County Auditor and his excellent, professional staff, some CPAs, to perform this duty, in lieu of added cost of Budget Manager, with probable staff. A less costly approach would be to increase the budget of the County Auditor's office (but less than proposed by the new separate department), where there are professionals to make decisions and clerical to do paperwork, already on board.

  2. Johnny,
    Thanks for clarifying. The way I read your comment is that the legislature made a law that it was impossible to comply with. My concern is the impact on the ability of the county to hire competent people but I suppose the reality is no-one offers health benefits to retirees except the military. One of the justifications for building the new Jimmy Ray Jail was the inability of the sheriff to hire enough jailers to staff the county jail?
    If the turnover was 10%, doesn't the auditor still have to make the same calculations for existing employees who still have the benefit or did they eliminate paid health insurance at retirement for existing employees also?

    About budget prep. If the Auditor was doing it, it would be in compliance with the law. Were you aware the proposed budget (fy 09-10)contained funding for CBO? Commissioners rejected it in the proposed budget. Now 7 months later, they fund the position. If the court transferred the responsibility to the Auditor last budget not only would Adam not be jammed up but the court would have been in compliance with the law. The point is they (the commissioners) knew about it 7 months ago and did nothing. There has not been any explanation about why it was suddenly so critical. Why the 180?