Everyone knows their county taxes go to pay for road maintenance, the EMS, sheriff and county fire departments, but County Judge Tab Thompson sat down with the Empire-Tribune last week to explain the many other departments county residents' taxes fund.
"You don't really think about everything that touches your day-to-day life that the county provides," Thompson said. "Everything from license tags for your vehicles, marriage license, divorces, probating wills, selling property, even calling in a suspicious person to the sheriff or if you have an accident or need assistant from the fire departments. All of it is funded with your county taxes, as well as fines and fees that are collected in various departments."
Both Jennifer Carey, tax assessor/collector, and Donna Kelly, treasurer, collect fees for various things in their departments. However, it is less than one-sixteenth of the amount taxes bring in. Those funds that aren't used by the departments collecting them for county approved business, goes into the county balances and towards services provided to county residents.
When Carey collects taxes, she disperses them to the various departments and office holders. From there, Thompson said, each has constitutional commitments that have to be met first. The commissioners, who are elected by their constituents, are there to ensure those individuals who have paid their taxes receive services from the county and to make sure those offices and departments have everything they need to meet those requirements.
"You can look at the county as a whole like a business," Thompson said. "Those individuals in charge must ensure everything and everyone are taken care of, but they must also constantly meet the set budget and spend the money allotted to them properly."
Another department that brings in funds to the county budget is the court system. Thompson and Kelly said the funds from the courts that do not go back into investigation and court costs, are dispersed through the commissioners court. He said the JP courts bring in funds from tickets and small claims court, while the county court at law brings in funds from juvenile court as well as DWI and DUI fines and fees.
Thompson said the funds the county brings in from the taxes, fines and fees they collect through various departments fund the entire county court system, the county and district clerks' offices, the county and district attorney offices, the two tax offices, the county treasurer's office, the county auditor's office, the county judge's office as well as the four commissioners' offices, the sheriff's department and jail, the county EMS and the Erath County Volunteer Fire Rescue as well as to partially support other volunteer fire departments throughout the county. They also fund the county extension office, the county sanitation department, the pretrial diversion office, veterans affairs office, the juvenile and adult probation departments, the county indigent healthcare program and much more.
"There are so many things we handle here on a day-to-day basis that residents don't even realize the county takes care of," Thompson said. "All those departments have to have money to operate and that's on the commissioners court and the county judge to ensure they have what they need."
Several of the offices do more than their specific requirements, county officials said. Thompson said the departments work well together and do whatever is necessary to get the job done.
"There isn't a single one of them who'll say 'that's not my job' and not do what they can for our residents," the judge said. "A perfect example of that is the neat cooperative effort to put on an election. We help the cities and the school boards put on their elections as well. And everyone from county crews who deliver voting machines to polling locations to the various employees who come early and stay late to hold elections. Everyone in the county nearly takes part."
What Thompson, Kelly and others want all county residents to know is this — elected officials and county employees alike work hard to ensure county tax dollars are well spent.
"I want Erath County residents to know they get a whole lot of bang for their buck with us," Thompson concluded. "Erath County makes sure those dollars are all working hard and spent wisely."