n less than two weeks we start early voting here in the state of Texas. For we here in Rockwall County, for the first time in a very long time, we have three contested races at the county level; commissioner, tax assessor and justice of the peace.
I have been asked by several people what these various office holders do and what their specific responsibilities might be. To help give you a better understanding of whom you might want to vote for, let me go over the responsibilities of each of these positions and also provide you some more details on the logistics of the individual job.
County commissioner: In the state of Texas, a county commissioner has three major responsibilities. He or she acts as a member of the commissioners court which exercises broad policy making authority. This court is composed of the county judge and four commissioners. While the judge is responsible for the preparation of the annual budget of the county, the entire court debates and adopts the county budget and the tax rate.
The court is also responsible for setting all county policies, salaries and benefits of the county workers. The commissioner also represents one of the four precincts within the county. In some counties in Texas, the commissioner is also responsible for the condition of the county roads and bridges in their particular precinct. In Rockwall County, however, the citizens voted many years ago to centralize this function under a consolidated Road and Bridge Department. As such, a commissioner in Rockwall County has no responsibility for this function.
The annual salary for a commissioner is $96,000. They also receive a car and phone allowance of $4,920 per year. In addition, each commissioner receives a very nice retirement and medical benefit package. The commissioner has no individuals reporting to them, they have no set office hours or supervisor other than the citizens who make up the county.
Tax assessor: In the state of Texas, the statutory responsibilities of the tax assessor-collector include the assessment of property and collection of ad valorem taxes for the county, as well as contracting with other entities to collect the jurisdictions taxes. In Rockwall County, these duties are contracted to the Centralized Appraisal District. The major function of this office in Rockwall County is to serve as an agent for the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and be responsible for registration and titling of all vehicles in the county, collection of the state tax on all automobiles sold, and collection of the county Fees for beer and liquor permits. The tax assessor office is on the first floor of the old courthouse located on the square in Rockwall. The tax assessor salary is $96,000 plus a car and phone allowance of $2,000 yearly. The 2021 budget for this office is $653,000. The tax assessor supervises nine personnel and has daily office hours of 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. As with the commissioner, the tax assessor has a nice retirement and medical benefit.
Justice of the peace: In the state of Texas, the justice of the peace (JP) has many duties and responsibilities. Most people interface with the JP in their court where they hear traffic and other Class C misdemeanors which are punishable by fines only. (No jail sentence can be imposed by a JP.) They also hear civil cases and disputes with up to $20,000 in controversy. (This amount was just raised from $10,000). They also hear and decide landlord and tenant disputes as well as hearing truancy cases. They also perform magistrate duties and in this county, because of a lack of a coroner, they also are responsible for conducting inquests.
There are four JP’s in Rockwall County, one for each precinct. Their salary is $90,000 with a car and phone allowance of $4,920 per year. The JP supervises two employees with a department budget of $259,000. They are located on the third floor of the new courthouse. Their office hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. They also receive a retirement and medical benefit package.
As in every election, it is important that each eligible citizen votes. This year you have a choice in almost all of the offices, and as the old adage goes “if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about the corresponding results.”
Jerry Hogan is a former Rockwall County judge and can be reached at email@example.com.