By Susan M. Redford
Every day, all 254 Texas counties deliver essential taxpayer services vital to the lives of 29 million Texans. They build and maintain roads and bridges, protect the public’s safety and health, guarantee judicial access, support fiscal responsibility and promote effective governance.
Over the past year, elected and appointed county leaders have been called upon to do more than simply carry out their routine responsibilities – much more. From county judges and county commissioners to county health officials and all staff in county hospitals, these men and women have been front and center in all efforts against a deadly pandemic that has reached into every corner of the state.
Working in tandem with federal and state officials, county leaders have had to make decisions on a daily (and in some cases hourly) basis that attempt to balance public health and safety with the need to deliver ongoing essential services in their communities. County health officials, who may once have been relatively unknown even locally, have played a key role.
The fight against COVID-19 continues in all 254 counties – and will continue in the months ahead. In addition, the economic and fiscal repercussions from this pandemic will be felt for years to come.
As we head into the 87th Texas Legislature, state senators and representatives now also face many difficult issues as a result of this pandemic. Like our county leaders, legislators will be debating and deciding issues that are on top of decisions they would normally face during an “ordinary” legislative session.
The Texas Association of Counties recognizes that strong state policy is best created when local and state officials work together. That’s why all our county officials – county judges and commissioners, sheriffs, justices of the peace and constables, district and county attorneys, county and district clerks, county treasurers, county auditors and tax assessor-collectors – stand ready to work with representatives and senators on issues that truly matter to all Texans.
Local leaders have been, and will always be, the best resource in determining how legislation can be carried out effectively. More importantly, county officials can be a key resource in foreseeing how new legislation and policy will impact each county and community across Texas.
There are no easy answers to the decisions we face as a state in the coming months. But as our history has shown, Texans do not shy away from a challenge. COVID-19 presents us with one of the biggest challenges yet. County leaders know that Texas will come out of this stronger if we work together.
Susan M. Redford is executive director of the Texas Association of Counties.