Heading into 2020, most local governments have proposed and passed their budgets for the new fiscal year. Excluding Harris County — which doesn’t start its new fiscal year until March of next year — the 50 most populated counties in Texas will increase their spending by an average of 6.57 percent next year.
That totals nearly $650 million in spending increases. Six counties account for almost 60 percent of this total:
- Tarrant County, $97 million, 15.45 percent
- Travis County, $77 million, 6.67 percent
- Bexar County, $67 million, 3.9 percent
- Hays County, $60 million, 18.6 percent
- Dallas County, $41.5 million, 7.5 percent
- El Paso County, $37.7 million, 8.8 percent
Hays County justified its massive increase by pointing to its county jail renovation and new public safety building.
Hunt County had the highest percentage increase of the group with a 33 percent swell — or almost $15 million in new government spending.
Other notable percentage increases were Gregg County at 18.9 percent, Rockwall County at 18.8 percent, and Ellis County at 18.4 percent.
On the contrary, a handful of these counties reduced their spending. By highest percentage decrease, they are:
- Orange County, $2.3 million, 4.6 percent
- Guadalupe County, $2.5 million, 2.6 percent
- Randall County, $1.8 million, 2.4 percent
- Ector County, $567,000, 0.84 percent
- Parker County, $226,000, 0.43 percent
- Nueces County, $490,000, 0.18 percent
The lack of accessibility for many county budgets is something that would likely concern citizens who value transparency in their government.
While many counties have their budgets easily accessible on their websites, a significant number fail to even do that. And some have altogether unnavigable or effectively nonexistent websites.
Of those who do have up-to-date budgets or proposals available on the web, about half list no totals — only line-by-lines listed across hundreds of pages of itemized budgeted funds.
Among those, some provided totals upon request. Others required a Freedom of Information Act request, which can take up to 30 days.
As for the counties who were entirely unresponsive, our team went through the line items to add up all the spending. For everyday Texans wondering how their county governments are spending their money, this is not a feasible option.
Some counties — like Baylor, Crockett, and Reagan — fail to have the budget published anywhere on their websites.
As of this publishing, other counties still have yet to provide their budgetary totals — Anderson, Brown, and Van Zandt to name a few.
The question this raises couldn’t be starker: for all the taxes that Texans pay, what degree of transparency are they receiving from their elected officials and bureaucracy?
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.