TAYLOR COUNTY, Texas (BIGCOUNTRYHOMEPAGE) – On this week’s edition of Big Country Politics, News Director Manny Diaz spoke with Precinct 4 Taylor County Commissioner Chuck Statler about his 25 years of service and the 88th legislative session. He is Taylor County’s longest serving republican member of the commissioners court and began in 1998.

“I enjoy being accessible to the people I serve and I enjoy explaining county government to the folks that we take care of,” Statler explained.

Last week, Statler visited Austin for the 88th legislative session.

“I went as a past state president of the County Judges and Commissioners Association. When the legislature goes into session for the 140 days, each of the past presidents and current officers have an opportunity to go and visit members of the senate, the house, sit in hearings and present testimony on issues that affect county government,” Statler explained.

Statler had a list of the good and no so good bills that hit the floor.

“It’s like that old Clint Eastwood movie ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly,’ Statler said. “Were going to see efforts by different members of the house and the senate to try to get property tax relief from them. The bad side of that is, Taylor County is one of those counties that 92% of our revenue come from ad valorem taxes, so if the state reduces property taxes, we may see a reduction in revenue. However, were blessed in Taylor County because we have new construction and reappraisals that are coming up that financially shouldn’t hit us as hard as it potentially could.”

Statler shared that one of the things he wanted to bring up at the session was a backlog in county jails and juvenile facilities.

“We have some folks that I understand may be over 30 in Taylor County jail that have been there for two years because they’re incompetent to stand trial,” Statler explained. “There’s technicalities where they can’t get the trial and be put through the judicial process, so the state has left them because there’s not any bed space at mental hospitals or any forensic beds. So those are just pushed down on us and it cost us, it cost me and you, $80 per day to keep someone in custody at the county jail.”

Statler also mentioned good things he saw, such as the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).

“The legislature decided that should the city of Abilene ever try to annex out into the ETJ, that five-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction, if they wanted to annex two miles more, they don’t get to leap frog, and move that ETJ line back out… and that would still give people who live in that area to go ahead and live in those unincorporated areas because they want to have a little more breathing space and less regulations,” Statler shared.

Statler shared that four the past four sessions, legislation has tried to take away local controls from cities and counties.

“Senate bill 175 is trying to take representation away, especially from county commissioners and sheriffs associations, because they say that our influence is too strong when we go and visit,” Statler added. “That bill did pass through the senate, its in the house… were reaching out to our friends like Stan Lambert, Glen Rogers, Drew Darby and asking them to not support that bill because we need to have access to the folks that are asking us to obey the rules that we set forth.”

Seven years ago, according to the Texas state-wide behavioral health strategic plan, more than 80% were designated as mental health professional shortage areas. Fast forward to 2023, 98% of the state, 254 counties, have been fully or partially designated as mental health professional shortage areas by the federal government.

“There is a dilemma, it is state-wide… In Taylor County we have created, years ago, a mental health task force. We have made a jail diversion committee with people from Betty Hardwick, our sheriffs department, we have paramedics from the Abilene Fire Department, Abilene police and I’m the lone elected official that sits in on this committee,” Statler explained. “We created, two years ago, a jail diversion committee. When someone is placed in custody and they get to the county jail booking, we have basically whats called a voyager that visits with these people and tries to ask ‘do you have a serious mental condition’ or ‘are you off of your psychotic drugs.'”

From there, the committee decides the best course of action, which can send someone to a mental health facility locally or as far as El Paso to get that person the help they need to divert them from jail.

In January, there was talk about a new juvenile detention facility in Taylor County, but with staffing shortages, the facility could become an unfunded mandate and this did not sit well with the commissioners court.

“The Juvenile Justice Commission has, in the past, decided we have a problem. Lets build a new building but move the same problems to that. Taylor County wasn’t willing to be a part of that,” Statler said.

Statler shared he believes that the state has left Taylor County out of this at this time.

“One of the people on that Sunset Committee is our state senator Charles Perry and I sent him information on it and the response I’ve gotten from his staff is Taylor County probably isn’t a likely location,” Statler shared.

Throughout his service of 25 years, Statler shared this new budget cycle might be the most contentious yet.

“This may be one of the most contentious budgets that the commissioners court has to deal with. Not only what will the legislature demand on counties… but they will also come up with unfunded mandates. They cant find the money in Austin they always say ‘oh, the counties are good stewards of the tax dollars, let them’ and the cities work on it, but we also have 675 employees… We’ve had reasonable cost of living allowances over the years… our best investment is the people that we serve,” Statler said. “We need to make sure that they (residents of Taylor County) can make a decent living and continue to serve.”