Money a constant consideration

David Barkemeyer
Milam County Judge

A s I was campaigning for this job, I heard someone say, “It’s all about money,” like everything a politician does is motivated by money.

I thought to myself, “ That’s not true, I will not accept that.” But now that I’ve been at the job of trying to take care of county business for a while, I’m beginning to have to fight myself to keep from being overcome by the money motive.

What makes it such a struggle is the constant budget pressure that we face in Milam County. I know that those of you who read these articles and perhaps keep up with the budget reports that I post on the web site may be of the opinion that I spend too much time communicating numbers to you, but I’m anxious that citizens becoming as aware as I have become of the reality of the situation facing us.

When I’m faced in court with the decision of sending someone to jail at a cost of $90 to $100 per day to you the taxpayer vs. fining them $500 or maybe even $1,000 and/or placing them on probation, what should I do?

And, yes, at the same time I realize I must consider the need for punishment for what they have done as well.

You may be thinking, “No big deal.” But, let’s think about the consequences as hundreds of decisions like this are made in our courthouse each year.

Of the nearly 600 cases we’ve already handled in the county courtroom to date this year, some $200,000 in fines and fees have been collected.

In district court some 400 cases to date have resulted in over $100,000 in fines and fees collected.

And that’s only what has been retained here at the county with a similar amount being passed on to the state.

In contrast, we have about 90 prisoners confined in the County Jail at any given time and that has cost you Milam County taxpayers over $2 million already this year.

Are you beginning to see why I struggle with the money issue? You might also ask, why should the sheriff’s department be writing traffic tickets?

Is it to improve safety on our roadways? Yes. But isn’t that the job of the DPS? Yes, but they can’t do it alone, they need help with both departments having other duties besides traffic control.

Oh, and there’s that question again, are we writing traffic tickets for the money? Yes, we are.

Are you surprised that I admit it? Don’t be. First of all, we aren’t anywhere close to being a speed trap in Milam County, but we do mean business.

We expect drivers to drive safely and to drive at a reasonable speed, or they will pay.

And by the way, we are looking for drugs, too. But the fact is law enforcement is very costly, so as much as possible (in my opinion) those that should pay are the ones breaking the law rather than the law abiding citizens. So here’s what we’re doing. Year-to-date, we’ve collected over $200,000 in traffic fines from tickets written by county officers and some $160,000 from tickets written by DPS officers.

And we plan to do well over half a million total in 2012.

Besides writing tickets, we have been working hard on our collection efforts with our justices-ofthe peace offices as well as the law firm of MVBA that serves as our collection agency.

A county-wide warrant roundup is being planned in early 2012 as well. Are we serious? You bet. If you call that “all about money,” then so be it.

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2011-11-24 digital edition

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