The second part of this crash course on the commissioners court by Commissioner J.J. Koch left off by mentioning the role of unfunded mandates in shaping the responsibilities of the Dallas County Commissioners Court.
“We get pulled to do things: set up the court, pay for the jail, handle certain pieces of transportation. But the state does not fund us with state sales tax, rather, we fund ourselves from property tax,” explained Koch.
In the first part of this series, he had pointed out that the commissioners court’s bite out of county taxpayers’ wallets pales compared to the much bigger property taxes levied against residents by their local public school boards.
“If your tax bill is one dollar, 50 cents of it is your ISD, another 40 cents is your city, and the little slivers are your county,” he said.
Still, the commissioners court oversees and funds several governmental functions mandated by the State of Texas that do not have corresponding state funding.
“The business includes birth certificates, death certificates, and all those bureaucratic things that you usually don’t think of, but you know, belong in that category,” said Koch.
Another burden on the commissioners’ docket is Dallas County’s public health system, namely Parkland Hospital, which the commissioners court has some oversight over.
Parkland Hospital taxes county residents directly in the form of property taxes. In 2021, its tax rate was set at $0.255 per $100 of valuation, higher than Dallas County’s rate of $0.228 per $100 of valuation.
As a source of revenue that year, property taxes made up roughly $752 million of the county health system’s funding.
Koch explained how the individual county commissioners select representatives to sit on Parkland’s governing board.
“That board, of course, is held accountable. They work at the will and pleasure of [the] individual commissioners. So, our will be done in that regard,” said Koch.
While Parkland’s county tax may seem high, Koch pointed out that it has been on a downward trajectory.
“For the most part, Parkland has consistently cut their tax rate … going on since basically the recession. Since about 2010, they’ve been consistently cutting your tax rate, operating more efficiently,” he said.
“Now [Parkland] receive[s] folks from Collin County and Denton County at great expense to Dallas County taxpayers,” said Koch.
“You pay a great deal for individuals that are here that are indigent, but we also pay a ton of money, particularly when it comes to oncology. And then certainly OB/GYN,” he said.
“We deliver more human lives than anyplace else in the country every day here at Parkland, and a very small percentage [of] those individuals actually live in Dallas County,” he added.
Koch wrapped up his thoughts on Parkland and unfunded mandates, stating, “What I can say about Parkland is it’s a huge burden in regard to having people from the outside, but it’s being run as well as it can be, and it does have good leadership.”
He offered a reminder too:
“If you don’t know what your county commissioners court does, and you don’t know what the county functions are, you can’t hold them accountable.”