Polk County

Judge Sydney Murphy reports on State of the County

Residents’ commitment to helping each other makes all the difference in trying times

A Message from Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy

Over the past year, we have hung in there, and I want to thank the entire community for coming together in times of need. Between COVID-19 and the EF3 tornado that struck the county in April, we have faced some significant struggles, but it is clear that Polk Countians are committed to helping one another which makes all the difference in the world. That being said, I think we are all excited to see the tail side of 2020 and look forward to a fresh start in 2021!

Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy

Polk County has earned a reputation for being a great place to live, offering both country living and urban accessibility. We’ve got top-notch school systems, beautiful countryside, abundant recreational offerings and a friendly & welcoming community. Our growth and success is most certainly a team effort and I am proud of the contributions made by our Commissioners Court, Elected Officials, Department Heads, County Employees and our Citizens. By offering responsible fiscal management and transparency of government, we improve the general understanding of the workings of the County and strengthen the public’s trust. I am honored to be a part of this process.

It’s useful to regularly review our Mission, Vision, and Plan for the Future, and especially helpful as we look towards a fresh start for the New Year.

Our Mission – Polk County Government exists in order to provide the highest quality of public service for our citizens. In the fulfillment of this mission, an exemplary quality of life is created for all people of the County – ensuring health, safety and economic opportunity.

Our Vision – Presenting a cohesive county government, committed to effective governing by operating as a team to guarantee our continued success in public service. The Citizens of Polk County trust their elected officials and participate fully in the governance of the County. There is a maximum effort to determine each Citizen’s needs and to respond to those needs appropriately.

The Plan – The Commissioners Court has taken several steps in order to begin the development of a formal strategic plan for the County. These steps include the development of organizational goals, continued work to identify performance and productivity measures, and the creation of various committees formed to address specific issues as they arise. These are the current strategic directions for the County:

  • Continue to use planning processes to guide the County
  • Continue to provide the most effective and efficient services possible
  • Promote economic development for the creation of opportunities
  • Raise public awareness of County Government
  • Develop new revenue sources
  • Maximize the use of technology
  • Attract, train and retain qualified employees
  • Work cooperatively with all levels of government.

Polk County’s overall financial and service goal is to provide the full range of statutorily required services to citizens while maintaining the lowest prudent tax rate. The County intends to continue to expand non-tax revenues for budgetary growth dictated both by growth in the County’s population and related growth in the demand for county services. Polk County will ensure that budgetary growth (in excess of inflation) is balanced by increases in demand for services, and will provide for the expansion and renewal of its infrastructure through the use of long-term debt when it is considered appropriate and fiscally responsible.

Our primary focus in developing the 2021 County Budget was to continue to provide the quality services that our citizens rely on while cutting operating expenses, maintaining staffing levels and not increasing the tax rate or dipping into reserves. Polk County’s Budget document, which can be viewed on our website at www.co.polk.tx.us, details the issues and priorities established for the current fiscal year as they relate to the County’s long term goals and objectives.  Here are a few highlights:

To Manage Growth

As in previous years, we continue to actively participate in regional and statewide planning efforts in transportation, federal and forest land usage, as well as services development to ensure the County’s needs and interests are represented. We maintain memberships with Texas Forest Country Partnership and Deep East Texas Economic Development Council, and actively work to attract new industry to our region. Efforts to retain existing business and attract new industry serve to increase employment opportunities and strengthen the County’s tax base.

The Road & Bridge Commissioners continue to work closely with the Texas Department of Transportation to repair and upgrade older bridges throughout the County, and continue to seek alternative funding, such as grants, state programs and federal assistance for critical upgrades to County roads and bridges – thereby limiting the impact to our taxpayers.

To Enhance Revenues and Ensure Financial Stability

Our County Officials and Department Heads are continuing to review all revenue streams available to their offices and determine means to maximize those revenues in order to minimize the amount that must be collected through Ad Valorem taxes. We are also taking a close look at all expenses to make sure that we are not overpaying for goods and services necessary for county operations and that all expenses approved in the adopted budget are necessary for continued operations.

We also continue to pursue fine and fee revenues through new assessments that may be made available by legislative changes. Fines and fees attached to criminal offenses place the burden on the offender, rather than the taxpayer. The County encourages the recovery of unpaid fines and fees by contracting for the collection of delinquent payments and by providing salary supplements for Precinct Constables serving outstanding warrants.

To Improve Efficiency and Productivity     

The ongoing pandemic has made it necessary for the county to improve remote work and web-based capabilities and to expand online services for our citizens. Judicial and criminal justice operations, other than the most critical services, had to be put on hold for several months while the Office of Court Administrations determined what safety protocols needed to be in place to operate the court systems safely, and the courts are now extensively operating remotely. We have utilized a portion of the funds allocated to us from the Coronavirus Relief Act to purchase the necessary equipment and software to accomplish these tasks. These funds are also being used to fund modifications at county buildings for the safety of our citizens and purchasing Personal Protective Equipment and other safety equipment to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The health and safety of our workforce and our citizens ensures that we can continue to stay open and provide the necessary services that residents should expect from County Government.

County departments continue working to expand the availability of information and services on the County’s website – http://www.co.polk.tx.us – and other hosted sites. Electronic access to information serves to more efficiently address the needs of the public while improving County productivity.

To Improve Employee Environment   

Polk County employees receive premium healthcare through Texas Association of Counties (TAC) which is fully funded by the County. TAC Healthy County provides substantial benefits that go above and beyond low deductibles, copays and out-of-pocket maximums. Under normal circumstances, TAC works with our Human Resources Department to provide in-person workshops to educate employees about these benefits, such as cell phone Apps employees can use to help keep up with their accounts and benefits coverage, promote healthy diet and exercise, and challenge other employees for some healthy competition. Due to COVID-19, these workshops have been temporarily suspended, but employees still receive regular email communications to keep them apprised of all benefits available, including low-cost programs to assist with stress, pain management and other issues that can make it difficult to keep up with daily activities. The more employees take advantage of these programs, which are designed to improve overall health, the cheaper the premiums become for the County and the employees that cover their dependents on the county plan.

To Increase Communications & Services to Citizens    

COVID-19 has made it impossible for us to handle jury operations in a safe and controlled manner without significant modifications. We are implementing a Jury Management software that will allow us to pre-qualify jurors and exempt those that have a legitimate excuse to opt out of jury duty online, thus allowing us to bring in much smaller pools for jury selections. Polk County citizens will have the ability to call or go online once they receive a juror summons to fill out their information, which will reduce unnecessary contact between citizens and our staff. This will also make it much easier to push out information as needed to those that are scheduled for jury duty, such as cancellation or rescheduling notifications.

County Departments continue to increase the information and services available to the public through the Polk County website as well as other hosted sites, such as Facebook – Polk County, TX – and YouTube – Polk County Commissioners Court. Many of our departments have revamped their portions of the County website, making them more attractive and user-friendly. Many also have Facebook pages where they regularly post public service announcements relative to their offices. Information on County projects, public notices, budgets, financial data, records research and services such as fine, fee & tax payments are all available on-line. This information and the efforts of the County Auditor’s Office have earned Polk County the notable “Gold Star Award” for Financial Transparency from the Texas State Comptroller.

“Alert Me Polk County” is fully operational and provides emergency notifications to subscribers free of charge. Registration can be completed on the County’s website or by calling the Office of Emergency Management at 936-327-6826, and we strongly encourage all citizens to register so they will be informed in case of an emergency.

The Polk County Commissioners Court has begun live-streaming all commissioners court meetings via our YouTube channel – Polk County Commissioners Court – to make the meetings more accessible to the public during this public health emergency, and we will continue these live streams moving forward.

Spotlight on Polk County is a short monthly publication that we started posting on the County website in October 2020 to help citizens learn more about the services each Polk County office provides. We encourage everyone to take a look each month, or visit the Archives at www.co.polk.tx.us/page/Polk.Spotlight.PolkCounty.

As we continue working to meet our goals, we are building on our strong foundation in preparation for new opportunities. By enhancing relationships throughout our county, we recognize the value and strength of the whole – rather than the size of the parts. I challenge each of us to invest in the County’s future. Support your community’s events – learn more about the issues at hand – visit with your County Officials – and be a positive voice that will better our lives in Polk County. Working together is the best way for us to meet these challenges and I look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.

Categories: Polk County