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Local Government

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By Loren Miller

Local Government
When most people think about government, they
think about the national government.
Of all three levels of government, local government
has the greatest impact on our daily lives.
Drinking water
Schools
Streets
Parks and recreation
Police and Fire Protection

Local Government
Local Government takes many forms:
Municipalities (cities and towns)
1,200+
Counties
254
Special Districts (water, hospital, schools, housing,
conservation, community colleges, etc.)
3000+
Councils of Governments

All collect revenue and provide services

Local Government
Dillons Rule: (followed in Texas and in 40 states)
A legal principle that local governments have only
those powers granted by their state government

State Powers

Local Powers
Cities, Counties, and Special Districts are creatures of the State

Local Government
Cooley Doctrine
Local government is a matter of absolute right and
the state may not take it away

Local power is not dependent upon the state

Local Government
Local governments may receive part of their money
from the state or national government.
States often complain about unfunded federal
mandates but local governments face the same
dilemma from the state
Meeting jail standards
Providing access for the disabled
Improving the quality of air
Meeting federal and state educational standards

State Government Employment


Number
Government Employees

318,000

Employees per 10,000 population


Average Earnings
Per Capita Government
Expenditure

126

44

$50,139

$4,411

Per Capita Government Debt

Texass Rank

27

50
$1,210

48

2011

Local Government Employment


Number
Government Employees

1,134,000

Employees per 10,000 population


Average Earnings
Per Capita Government
Expenditure

Texass Rank
2

451

$42,489

$4,820

Per Capita Government Debt

35

21
$7,868

2011

Municipal Governments
City government powers are outlined and restricted
by state and national constitutions, municipal
charters, and statutes.
Texas has two legal classifications of cities:
General Law Cities: a community with a population
of 201 or more; limited by state law
Home Rule Cities: a community with a population of
5,000 or more; locally adopt and revise a charter;
must be approved in an election

General Law Cities


A general law city has extraterritorial jurisdiction
over zoning and building for half a mile beyond its
formal boundaries.
A general law city may annex territory no greater
than 10 percent of their existing land but the
residents must approve of the annexation by a
majority vote.

Home Rule Cities


A city charter establishes the powers of municipal
officers, sets salaries and terms of office, and
spells out procedures for passing, repealing or
amending city ordinances.
A home rule city can exercise powers not given to
the state or to general law cities:
Recall (El Paso, College Station)
Initiative (San Antonio, Farmers Branch)
Referendum
Annexation

Home Rule Cities


A home rule city also has extraterritorial
jurisdiction over zoning and building for five miles
beyond their border.
Home rule cities can annex territory by a simple
majority vote of the city council and it does not
require the approval of the residents of the area to
be annexed.

Forms of Municipal
Government
Strong Mayor Council
Among larger American cities, the strong mayor
council is the predominant structure (New York, Los
Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston)
The mayor is the chief administrator and the political
head of the city
-- provides strong leadership but there is the
of corruption

threat

Forms of Municipal
Government
Strong Mayor Council
Characteristics:

-- Mayor is elected at large and has the power to


hire and fire department heads
-- Mayor has the power to veto council actions
-- Mayor has budgetary power (plan for raising and
spending city money)
-- Mayor sets the agenda for the council

Strong Mayor Council


Voters

Mayor

Council

Appoints with approval of the council

Department Heads

Forms of Municipal
Government
Weak Mayor Council
The mayors position is weak because the office
shares appointive and removal power over city
personnel; power is decentralized.
The mayor is no more powerful than the other
members of the council.

Weak Mayor Council


Voters

Mayor & Council

Other Officials

Department Heads

Forms of Municipal
Government
Council-Manager
The council-manager system was initiated as a
reform during the Progressive Era (1900-1917).
Reformers attempted to substitute efficient and
businesslike management for boss rule.
-- seen as a means of separating politics from the
administration of government
-- first implemented in 1913 in Texas by Amarillo
and by Terrell
-- used in Dallas, San Antonio, and Plano

Forms of Municipal
Government
Council-Manager
The mayor and the council make decisions after
debate on policy issues such as taxation, budgeting,
annexation and services.
-- most city managers exert strong influence on
these matters
-- once policy is made, the city manager directs an
appropriate department to implement that policy

Forms of Municipal
Government
Council-Manager
The city manager is professionally trained (MPA),
earns a competitive salary, and serves at the pleasure
of the council.
-- the city manager in Dallas makes
$400,000/year (2014)
-- councils and mayors are not supposed to
micromanage departments
-- tend to respond more to elite and middle class
concerns rather than the concerns of the working class

Council-Manager
Voters

Mayor

Council
City Manager

Department Heads

Forms of Municipal
Government
Commission
This was approved by the Texas legislature for
Galveston after a hurricane demolished the city in
1900. Today, none of Texass cities operate under
this form of government.
Commission members are elected by the people and
perform both executive and legislative functions.
-- they make up a municipal legislature and also
administer a city department

Commission
Voters

City Commission

Department Heads

Municipal Elections
Mayors and city council members are usually
elected for terms according to the city charter
(usually 2 to 4 years).
Many cities have adopted term limits
Some limit the total number of terms while others
limit the number of consecutive terms that a
member can serve
All city elections in Texas are nonpartisan

Municipal Elections
Cities have the choice of using at-large or a singlemember district system
In a pure at-large system all of the voters elect all of
the members of the council
The membership of the council tends to be
homogeneous (less conflict)
In an at-large place system all of the voters vote for
candidates who run for specific seats
In a single-member district system voters cast a ballot
for a candidate who resides within their district
Leads to greater diversity within the council and
also leads to increased pressure to gerrymander

Municipal Elections
A small number of Texas cities and some school
boards use cumulative voting
People cast the number of votes equal to the
number of seats available
If there are six seats a voter may cast 3 votes for
one candidate, 2 for a second, and 1 for a third;
or they may cast 6 votes for one candidate
This has been used to increase minority
representation

Municipal Services
For most people, city governments primary job is
to provide for basic services, but limited resources
often lead to competing demands
Police and fire protection
Streets
Water, sewer, and sanitation
Parks and recreation
City government also provides for regulation
Zoning
Construction
Food service

Municipal Finances
Most city governments in Texas face a serious
financial dilemma: they barely have enough money
to provide basic services and must reject or
shortchange new services
Cities two largest revenue sources, sales tax and
property tax, are limited by state law
Regressive taxes
Texas cities are relying more heavily on fees
Liquor licenses, water rates, and franchise fees for
cable television providers

TEXAS MAJOR STATE AND LOCAL TAXES AS A


PERCENTAGE OF HOUSEHOLD INCOME
Lower
Income

Lower
Middle

Middle
Income

Upper
Middle

Upper
Income

Sales Tax

5.9%

3.5%

2.8%

2.6%

1.8%

Gas Tax

0.8%

0.5%

0.4%

0.3%

0.2%

Motor
Vehicle
Tax

0.7%

0.5%

0.5%

0.4%

0.3%

Local
Property
Tax

4.7%

2.7%

2.3%

2.3%

2.0%

Texas State Comptroller, 2007

Municipal Finances: Taxes


Texas allows municipalities to levy taxes based on
the value of property
The problem with property taxes is that poorer cities
with low property values must charge a high rate to
provide for minimum services
Highland Park tax rate: 22 cents/$100 valuation
Wylie tax rate: 90 cents/$100 valuation
The other major source of revenue is the optional
1.25 2 percent sales tax
The sum of city, county, and special district sales tax
cannot exceed 2 percent

Municipal Finances: Fees


When residents are charged for a particular
government service, this is called a user fee
These fees are popular because voters often
oppose higher taxes but generally believe that
people should pay for what they actually use
Cities may charge for city provided electricity,
water, sewage, and garbage collection
Other charges include swimming pool fees, golf
course fees and ambulance service; inspection
fees, building fees, and beer and liquor licenses

Municipal Finances: Bonds


Money for capital improvements and emergencies
often must be obtained through the sale of
municipal bonds
Construction of city buildings, parks, recreation
centers
Flood or hurricane damage
Cities may issue bonds to be repaid from taxes and
must be approved by the voters of the city

Abatements and Exemptions


A tax abatement is a tax reduction or exemption
granted by local government to an industry or
business.
Tax exemptions
Homestead exemption (up to 20% of the assessed
value of the property)
Additional exemption for disabled veterans and for
homeowners 65 years of age and older

CITY REVENUE OF HOUSTON IN 2012


(%)
Column1

15

27

10

48

Sales Taxs
Property Taxes
Franchise Fees
Other

Problems with Municipal


Governments
1) The rapid shift of the population to urban areas
has seriously taxed the city governments ability
to provide necessary services (water, sewer,
police and fire protection).
2) Middle and upper income flight has decreased the
tax base (property tax)

Counties
Counties are units of local government that are limited
to those structures and powers specifically granted by
state law
If county officials want to respond to a local problem by
taking an action not specifically allowed by state law, they
must obtain authorization from the Texas legislature
Texas has 254 counties, the most in the nation, and all
counties in Texas have the same governmental
structure
Loving County (population 82) has the same structure as
Harris County (population 4,180,000)
Rockwall County (147 square miles) has the same
structure as Brewster County (over 6,000 square miles)

Counties
The Texas Constitution provides for the election of
four county commissioners, county and district
attorneys, a county sheriff, a county clerk, a district
clerk, a county tax assessor-collector, a county
treasurer, constables, as well as judicial officers
All are elected in partisan elections and serve a four
year term
County officials tend to think of their office as their
personal fiefdom and resent interference by other
officials
Hence, Texas counties are usually highly
decentralized

Precinct 1

Dist.
Clerk

Sheriff

County Voters
Precinct 2
Precinct 3

County
Clerk

County
Attorney

Tax
Assessor

Surveyor

Precinct 4

Treasurer

Justice of the
Peace

Dist. Judge

Constable
Auditor

Commissioners Court

Comm.
Precinct 1

Comm.
Precinct 3

Comm.
Precinct 2

County
Judge

Comm.
Precinct 4

Commissioners Court
The Commissioners Court is the board of directors
for the county. It is composed of four
commissioners and the county judge.
Commissioners Court has executive and legislative
duties, not judicial
The commissioners are elected for four year
staggered terms
They establish the budget for the county and set the
tax rate
Amount Needed = Assessed Value of Property x Rate
Rate = Amount Needed/Assessed Value
Collin County Commissioners Salary: $107,811 (2013)

County Property Tax Rates


2012
County

Total Tax Rate Per $100


Five Highest Rates
Duvall
Throckmorton
Jim Hogg
King
Foard
Five Lowest Rates
Dallas
Collin
Upton
Morris
Midland

$1.12
$1.04
$1.03
$1.01
$0.95
$0.24
$0.24
$0.23
$0.23
$0.20

County Finance
Just as the structure of county government is
frozen in the Texas Constitution, so is the countys
power to tax and to spend
The Texas Constitution authorizes county
governments to collect taxes on property
They may impose higher property taxes that would
generate up to 8 percent more revenue than the
previous year without citizens ability to initiate a roll
back on the higher rate

County Finance
Counties receive small amounts of money from
various sources that add up to an important part of
their revenue
Fees on the sale of liquor
Various motor vehicle taxes and fees
Traffic fines
Counties may borrow money through bonds to pay
for capital improvements (new jail; new court
house)

County Judge
The county judge generally is the most influential
county leader
Presides over Commissioners Court
In rural counties they also hear cases in County
Court
Does not need to be a lawyer
Has no formal authority over other elected officials,
but has influence over their budget

Collin County Judges Salary: $131,990 (2013

County Sheriff
The county sheriff, as chief law enforcement officer
in the county, is charged with keeping the peace in
the county.
Appoints deputies
Oversees the county jail and its prisoners
Usually focuses on crime in unincorporated areas
and leaves law enforcement in the cities primarily to
municipal police

Collin County Sheriffs Salary: $138,792 + $9,100 Auto (2013)

County Law Enforcement


The county judge in rural counties hears minor
civil and criminal cases (A & B misdemeanors) in
County Court
Each county has from one to eight justice of the
peace precincts (number is decided by
Commissioners Court)
Handle minor civil (small claims) and criminal (Class
C) misdemeanors
Serve as coroner
Constables assist the JPs by serving papers
Collin County Salaries (2013): Justice of the Peace -- $94,753

Constable -- $89,762

County/District Attorney
District attorneys generally focus their attention on
the district court (felonies)
County attorneys represent the state in civil and
criminal cases and advise county officials
Some counties have both a county attorney and a
district attorney, while other counties may have
one or the other
Collin County Salary: $146,565 (2013)

County Clerk
The county clerk keeps records and handles
various paperwork chores for both the county
court and the commissioners court.
In addition, the county clerk files legal documents
(such as deeds, mortgages, and contracts) in the
countys public records and maintains the countys
vital statistics (births, deaths, marriage records).

Collin County Salary: $110,988 (2013)

County Tax Assessor-Collector


The county tax appraisal district assesses property
values in the county, so the County Tax AssessorCollector no longer (since 1982) assesses property
values.
They collect county taxes and fees, including
license tag fees for motor vehicles.
This office also handles voter registration.
Collin County Salary: $109,745 (2013)

County Treasurer & Auditor


The county treasurer receives and pays out county
funds authorized by the commissioners court.
A county of 10,000 or more people must have a
county auditor, appointed by the countys district
court judges.
Checks the account books and records of officials
who handle county funds

Problems with County


Government
1) Obsolete difficult to cope with a primarily urban
principally a rural oriented structure.

state;

2) Lack of Centralization too many people are elected and


independent; lack of coordinated planning. Difficult for
voters to intelligently choose officeholders (long ballot)
3) Graft and Corruption state law prohibits competitive
bidding; commissioners decide who gets the contracts to
work in their precincts; spoils system is used for
hiring.
-- Much of the money contributed to county elected officials come from
firms or people who do business with the county

Special Districts
A special district is a unit of local government that
performs a single service in a limited geographic
area. Districts can be created to do almost anything
that is legal.

Drainage districts
Community College districts
Library districts
Metropolitan transit authorities

The number of special districts has increased


dramatically in the last 50 years.
There are more special districts in the United States than any
other single type of government
Only Illinois and California have more special districts than Texas

Special Districts in Texas

1952

1962

1972

1982

1992

2002

2012

491

733

1,215

1,681

2,266

2,245

2,800+

Special districts are the fasting growing unit of government


in the United States and in Texas

Special Districts
There are two types of special districts in Texas:
Independent school district
Nonschool special district
The special district must be chartered by the state or
otherwise approved by the Texas legislature.
They have taxing authority (property; sales tax; tolls)
They are independent from other governments
The Plano Independent School District is completely
independent from Planos city government

Special Districts
Why create a special district?
A city or county may have limited revenue
They may have reached the state-mandated sales tax limit of
2%

Only a small area within a city or county may need the


service. Why tax everyone?
A developer wants to provide water and sewerage for a
subdivision that lies outside the city limits.
Municipal Utility District (MUD)

The demand for a service may extend beyond a single


jurisdiction.
A river authority with the power to govern the use of water
throughout the rivers watershed

Community College Districts


Each community college district is governed by an
elected board that has the power to set property tax
rates, issue bonds (subject to voter approval), and
adopt an annual budget.
There are 50 community college districts in Texas.
Community colleges are funded by state
appropriations, student tuition and fees, local
property tax, and some federal grants.

Funding Sources for Collin College


(%)
Column1

6.5
15.8

30.7

31.1

15.9

2012-13

Property Tax
State
Federal
Tuition and Fees
Misc.

Special Districts
Problems with special districts
They are sometimes called hidden governments
because the actions of district officials and employees
are less visible than if a county or city provided the
services; board elections are not held at the same time
as general elections, so the voter turnout is quite low
The cost of borrowing money is quite high as they are
forced to issue revenue bonds (paid from fees
collected for the service) and pay a high interest rate
Because special districts are usually quite small, they
may purchase goods and services in limited quantities,
paying higher prices

School Districts
More than 1000 Texas school districts have been
created by the Texas legislature.
Governed by a popularly elected, nonsalaried board of
trustees
Elections are nonpartisan and do not coincide with
statewide elections; in urban areas, city and school
board elections may coincide (usually the second
Saturday in May)
The board makes district policy and are responsible for
hiring a superintendent who manages the day-to-day
operation of the district
Board members often make political demands on
the superintendent

School Districts
Public education has become a shared responsibility
(both financially and from a policy perspective) with
increased state and federal requirements for testing
students
Different school districts have varied sources of
financial support
The states system of funding public education has
long been controversial as the bulk of funds for many
school districts is the property tax

Funding Sources for Texas Schools


(%)
Column1

10
47
43

2011

Local
State
Federal

Houston and El Paso


(%)
70
60
50
40

Local
State
Federal

30
20
10
0

Houston

El Paso

Houston

El Paso
2011

Councils of Government
Although the needs of local government vary, the
basics of providing governmental services are the
same for virtually all local governments.
Nearly all municipal and county governments, as well as most
special districts, participate in a council of government (COG).
COGs have been created to allow cooperation and
communication by local governments within a specific region.
Because COGs are not governments, they have no taxing power
and cannot pass laws, rules or ordinances
They are used to provide training for city managers, council
members, mayors, and other elected and appointed officials
They are also useful in planning for future regional
environment, transportation, and land use issues