Here are the answers to the 12 questions from Kolls in his own words.
1. Texas Counties are not in the business of providing water. As the drought intensifies, what do you see as Tom Green County’s role in securing water for residents?
The main role the county will have in helping secure water for our community is applying for state and federal grants to help both of our water districts. Grants that our communities themselves cannot apply for. Constant communication with the districts and the county grant writers’ office is key to helping the water districts in the county get the funding they need and the resources that are required for the districts to function efficiently and effectively. With my time spent as President of the City of San Angelo Development Corporation, I was part of the team that researched and eventually funded the West Texas Water Partnership with Abilene and Midland. This partnership allows us to maintain water for 50 plus years. The county’s role in helping secure water for the future is to understand how the funding through grants and other sources works for these projects. The county’s hands are tied in many ways by the state, so we have to know what, when and how we can help with the partnerships. On top of that I feel that a water conservation study done through multiple county facilities is important. As annoying as some water saving measures may be, it’s something that west Texans should understand we need. The slow flow and automated sinks and toilets in our facilities should be used. Water conservation measures in our county jail were addressed in the construction process. Other county facilities need the same measures studied and applied.
2. By State Law, Texas Counties have very limited economic development tools outside of property tax abatements. How do you see expanding the tax base in Tom Green County?
Understanding how economic development works is essential for the County Judge. Not much funding comes from the county for economic development but a lot of leadership, contacts and partnerships can be important in the economic growth for the community. Simply put, the County Judge needs to make sure that everything is in place when it comes to attracting business to our community. A solid education system, good health care facilities, and community safety are a few of the aspects that are looked at by business owners when considering our community. Transportation is another big issue we face when it comes to economic development. Being able to get goods and services in and out through planes, trains and automobiles are vital to the growth of the county. I was discussing the tax base from the very first forum. I understand what it is and why it’s so important to build and keep growing stronger. Now all the candidates are referring to the tax base. That’s because I understood from the get go that our tax base is the key to future growth and ultimately lowering your tax burden. Getting the tax burden more off of the homeowner and more on industry is an important part of lowering your taxes. Understanding that abatements are NOT crony capitalism but a creative measure that the state allows us to use to help businesses grow with less financial risk on their part and at the same time creating investments and jobs in our community. The thought that it’s just giving the rich more money is a lazy thought pattern. I’ve been involved in numerous economic developments. You look at the scope of the project and the benefits it can bring to the community.
3. You will be sued as County Judge sometime over the next four years. Are you prepared to defend yourself and the County in state and federal court?
Absolutely – I’m prepared for any lawsuit that may come my way. I have absolute confidence in the justice system and I also know that any action taken by the County Judge has the consent of the professionals within the county offices and the 4 county commissioners. Simply put, the County Judge must act accordingly. If he goes rogue, he or she is on their own. If he stays within the confines of the law and acts for the best of the community, then I welcome any dissent that dare come at me. The County Judge needs to stand strong and not give in to liability paralysis. The attorneys will constantly tell them what they need to do to cover their back side. I will not be confined to the closet of liability safety. I will stand up for Tom Green County on any state or federal case that requires us to act in a way that defends our way of life and the conservative principles I was elected to uphold.
4. Many individuals who are arrested and end up in the Tom Green County Jail are dealing with mental health issues. What is your vision to address the mental health of inmates in the County? Does your plan include a mental health holding or treatment facility? How would you fund it?
Tom Green county has taken some innovative measures when it comes to the problem of mental health in our community. Our new jail facility has, within its walls, a new emergency crisis center that has been enormously beneficial to the treatment of prisoners suffering with mental health while confined. A full training facility also provided the employees and other officials the training they need to help with this issue as well. The innovation needs to continue with the new County Judge who understands that this is a problem that cannot always be solved by medicine in a hospital. This is a problem that needs to be met with mental health professionals coming up with new and better ways to help patients. Good partnerships with Rivercrest and Shannon Behavioral Health are key to keeping the mental health professionals up to speed on the needs of the community. Also, making sure the management of the funding has been done appropriately so that they have what they need when they need it. Lastly, the state desperately needs to find a way to fund and build more long term mental health facilities. The cost is too great for the county to do on its own. We need someone fighting in Austin to help this become reality
5. There will be several storms, murders, droughts and other emergencies in Tom Green County over the next four years. What do you see as the County Judge’s role in handling natural and manmade disasters?
The County Judge, by statute, is the chief emergency management coordinator for the county. He or she has the authority to declare a disaster and give evacuation orders. Understanding and implementing the emergency management plan is also essential for the County Judge. I would like to study the effectiveness of an emergency management committee that meets monthly to quarterly and discusses issues ranging from training to funding. Also this new committee can learn and study from other counties around the state experiencing their own natural or man made disasters so we can learn from them and not just from our own emergencies.
As far as capital murders or crimes are concerned, making sure the proper authorities have what they need and when they need it are going to be the utmost of importance to my office.
6. Financial difficulties happen. Circumstances beyond the County Judge’s control sometimes negatively affect the bottom line. What departments or programs will you be willing to eliminate or cut to keep from having to raise the tax rate?
Only around 15% of the County departments are un-mandated by the state. So the only departments or areas you can cut out of the budget would be within that scope. Un-mandated county departments have come and gone for many many years. The current list of departments have evolved by what the citizens and county determine as necessary or essential to the quality of life they desire. Every department within the budget will be studied for effectiveness and efficiency, cuts will come when and where it’s deemed necessary by the majority of county commissioners court.
7. Are there any sources of revenue you envision creating to offset property tax? Will that revenue source require action by the Texas Legislature.
Offsetting property taxes is a priority for me as County Judge. We have to get creative and look wherever we can to find other revenue sources. State economic development is something I’m very interested in learning more about. TAX BASE, TAX BASE, TAX BASE is something I’ve been talking about since day one. We desperately need to get the county tax base up. In doing so we can effectively cut our tax rate and remove some of the burden from homeowners. One idea I have to raise revenues is to work with the state legislature to try and get individuals who are convicted on state felonies off of the county dime immediately. As soon as the judge’s gavel hits the block those convicted of state felonies should become the states expense, rather than remaining ours. Right now the county has to give the state 45 days to push paper around a desk to find the convicts a bed somewhere in the state prison system. We can hold them until they are properly processed but the daily rate for holding them should be charged to the state.
8. Do you support any plans to use County revenue on non-county programs? If so, what and why?
The County has always used some of its tax revenues for non-county programs and projects. The Boys and Girls Club is a great example of this. The county volunteer fire departments are in desperate need of additional funding. After visiting several of the volunteer fire departments in our county it is abundantly clear that we need to work diligently to try and help with whatever we can to find additional revenues for them. It’s also important that the County Judge understands what it means to be a good and effective steward of the tax revenues but at the same time being a good community partner to outside programs and projects we share with the city, state and rural areas in the Concho Valley.
9. What is your specific vision to offset skyrocketing property valuation increases over the next four to eight years?
The State Comptroller is trying to get the Appraisal Districts throughout the state to raise the valuations to market value (as stated by law) to ensure more uniformity across the state. The County Judge has no say in the skyrocketing property valuations we are currently seeing. However, the role of the county judge is to work together with the county commissioners to make sure the county accepts a “no new revenue rate” to ensure that the property taxes we pay out-of-pocket do not increase. The only way we can do this is by lowering the tax rate. In the July budget hearings, it is imperative that the county officials pass the “no new revenue rate” or simply put, vote to lower the tax rate so that our out-of-pocket payments will remain relatively the same, if not perhaps, even lower.
10. Federal and state grants have been mentioned frequently in this campaign as a way to fund County government to offset property taxes. What specific grants in detail are you aware of that will achieve this goal?
The new Public Defender’s office would not be possible without state provided grant money. This office will help the county save money and hopefully help with the efficiency and speed of the court system. But let’s get real for a minute. Everyone loves to talk about grants as a magical source of revenue. I, at this time, am in favor of applying for grants. They help in times when other funding sources are not available. But let’s not kid ourselves. A grant is another form of taxation. When the government spends money, it’s YOUR money. They have no money of their own. Grants are a source of revenue that the government hands out based on merit they deem appropriate while at the same time keeping control of how the money is spent. At this moment in time, grants are essential. However I’d rather see LOWER TAXES across the board and individual funding come from the people, not the state. The state seems to be moving towards a grant funding system rather than formula funding system. That’s because they would get to keep control of how you spend the money. Something, I believe, needs to change over the few years to decades before the state has ultimate control.
11. Would you be in favor of voting to replace any or all of the members of the board of directors of the Tom Green County Tax Appraisal District? Why or Why not?
I have no reason to replace any of the board members that currently serve on the appraisal district board of directors.
12. What education or experience do you have that makes you more qualified than your opponent to be the next Tom Green County Judge?
One of the main reasons I decided to run for County Judge is the time I served on the City of San Angelo Development Corporation. Serving as a board member for 6 years, vice president for two and president for the past two years taught me how to run a meeting, listen to the COSADC staff for direction and work side by side with the other board members. The main lesson I learned from serving on COSDC was the fact that these are tax dollars. Not Todd’s dollars. It’s because I learned that fact over the past 6 years that I have no doubt I will treat the office of County Judge no differently. We took tax revenues in and turned them around for the community. The County Judge is a business management role. Being a business owner and seeing the good times and bad has given me the life experience to have complete confidence in doing this job. Everyday I come to work I handle three main issues: budgets, assets and personalities. Those are three things that any business owner will tell you are the most important aspects of management. Understanding the wants, needs and goals of my employees is vital to the daily structure of running an office. I’ve had the experience to look an employee in the face while delivering bad news. I’ve had the experience of explaining the Covid 19 shutdown to a room full of people who looked scared to death because they didn’t know if their jobs were secure or not. I’ve had the experience of sitting with employees over countless hours at the computer to help them apply for benefits, medical insurance, home loans and a multitude of other things because it was all part of their goals and they needed the help. I have the daily experience of understanding budgets, assets and cost of doing business. But perhaps above all is the life experience I’ve had living and working as a professional business leader for over 12 years in this community. I’ve served on the board of directors for Angelo Civic Theater, Helping Hands, YMCA, Better Business Bureau, COSADC and currently have the pleasure of serving on the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo Board. Giving back to my community through serving on these boards has also taught me the value of what it means to live in a community that cares for one another and is driven by the values of hard work and faith.
I’m not looking for a position or a stepping stone, I want the job.
Lane Carter is a San Angelo business owner and former nurse. He was elected to the San Angelo City Council where he served five years.
Below is a link to an exclusive interview with San Angelo Live.