June 18, 2024

“If we’re going to be in the cemetery business, we need to get in it with both feet.”

Those were the words of County Judge Terry Johnson at Monday’s Commissioners’ Court meeting, and he was right.

While it may be a head-scratcher for some, the county basically has no choice but to make sure that the Fairview Cemetery is more presentable than it is today. After all, through no fault of the current court, the county is in the cemetery business.

Johnson’s comments are relevant for all government entities. When the school district bought apartments or set up housing for employees, it got in the housing business. When the county decided to pump millions of dollars into new libraries, it remained in the library business. By virtue of council and commissioners’ court votes to approve around $90 million in spending for the Bush Convention Center and Horseshoe respectively, the city and county put our communities in the convention business for decades to come.

And when you get in any business, you must jump in with both feet.

In November, some county residents (those living outside the city) will go to the polls to vote on an initiative that will raise the sales tax rate in the county. It could raise tens of millions of dollars (maybe as much as $80 million, according to Johnson in previous reports) annually for Midland County. Some leaders have said this will help keep the property tax rate low. That is likely going to be true, but it also will likely put the county in business.

A previous county meeting indicated the following “business” opportunities – the maintenance of libraries business, recreational facilities business, the updating of jail facilities business, maintenance of roads and highways business, ambulance services in Greenwood business and parks business. That is a lot of business.

Coincidentally to Johnson’s comment, another item on the county budget Monday was No. 51 – “Discuss and take action on mailer to County residents explaining County Assistance District.” The minute I saw this I thought back to the Midland ISD bond election where the school district spent taxpayer money on items to help explain the $569 million bond issue. Thankfully, commissioners decided not to act on this agenda item. I think we could all support someone doing that on their own dime.

No matter what happens on the mailer front, here’s what county leaders need to know with this election. No matter what residents think of the tax or the possible unprecedented growth in government it could allow, this tax increase — like any other before it — is only as good as the government that oversees it.

If voters living outside the city but inside the county have a positive view of how county commissioners can handle excess funds, then I would expect them to vote yes. If that view is negative, then it will fail.

It is no different than any other tax election in that they are typically a referendum on a plan or leadership or ratification of a business plan. We will see if voters are willing to jump in with both feet.