Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal spoke to a group of about forty people at the regular monthly meeting of the Flour Bluff Business Association held June 14, 2017, at Funtrackers in Flour Bluff. Neal served as the Mayor of the City of Corpus Christi from April 1997 through April 2003, then was elected Nueces County Judge in November 2006, the first Republican elected to this office in 146 years. In November 2010, Judge Neal was re-elected to his second term starting January 2011. Neal spent over 40 years in Insurance in Corpus Christi prior to taking office in January 2007. He is currently serving his third and final term, which comes to an end in 2018.
Neal started his talk by recognizing his partner on the Commissioners Court, Brent Chesney. He then thanked State Representative Todd Hunter for the work that he has been doing in Austin. “Along with the leadership of our representative and the hard work of a lot of people, we got passed what is known as Senate Bill 277, which has a big impact on Naval aviation training here. It’s not anti-wind farm; it’s pro- military. We are a pro-military community, and we wanted to make sure that we did everything we could here and in Kingsville to ensure the Navy that we would try to keep Naval aviation training here in the future.” The bill is related to the eligibility of certain property for certain ad valorem tax incentives relating to wind-powered energy devices.
The judge then gave the group a short civics lesson. “If you don’t know, the county form of government is different from every other form of government in the State of Texas.” He explained that it is a constitutional form of government, which means all actions by the commissioners must be spelled out in the Constitution of the State of Texas. “It’s a lot different from city government, which has a charter, a charter that can be amended. County government can only be changed at the state level with an amendment to the constitution,” said Neal. “The county judge is not in charge. He has two employees. Everyone else works for an elected or appointed official. So, how do we make it work? County government works because we work together,” he added.
Neal went on to say that the budget process, which includes public hearings, will begin in the next few weeks. “I can tell you right now that this is going to be a much tighter budget year,” said Neal. He attributes this to lower appraised property values. He explained that justices of the peace, constables, and other county elected officials submit their operational funding requests to the Commissioners Court, who will use the information to put together a budget. County agencies, for the most part, get all of their revenue from property taxes. “This creates both an opportunity and a challenge to keep our tax rate low. For the last two years, we have used the effective tax rate, which is good. We’ve not grown the tax rate beyond the previous year. I don’t know if we’re going to be there again this year. We’ll see what the demands are and what we have to do.” Referring to the County Commissioners Court, Neal said, “We are the guardians of the county budget, and we take that seriously.”
Neal went on to speak against Senate Bill 2, which will be a major part of the special session of the legislature. “SB 2 will take a lot of local authority, particularly in the amount of revenue that cities and counties could gather, away from those cities and counties and begin to set a trend that is disastrous for local government in the future. They have decided in the Senate that they don’t want local control to be in the hands of the local officials,” said Neal. He then thanked Chairman Hunter and the House for standing up to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick by coming up with their own version of the bill. “They drew a line in the sand and said no. That’s the kind of leadership we need and hope to continue to have in Austin.”
Neal discussed the changes in the county jail that are taking place now. “We’re expanding the county jail. We’re in the process of converting space in the McKenzie Annex to add 144 new beds. It was unused space and space used by probation and the Sheriff’s Department patrol. It will cost about $2 million – or perhaps a bit more by the time it’s finished,” he said. Neal reminded everyone that some of the increase in the cost is for making the jail ADA compliant, a directive that came from the Department of Justice about two years ago. “We’re all for it, but it’s very expensive,” he added. “It costs more to build a jail cell than it does to build a hospital room. We are looking for better ways to keep people out of jail so that we can stay at or below the allowable numbers of inmates.” According to Neal, there are about 1000 people a day in the Nueces County Jail. The cost for each prisoner is $81.00 per day.
During the Q&A session, Commissioner Brent Chesney announced that Judge Neal would not be seeking re-election. “I have had the privilege of serving with Judge Neal, first on the city council when he was mayor and now as a county commissioner. He has made it quite clear that he is not running for re-election, and that’s a real sadness for this community. We owe him a great round of applause and a big debt of gratitude. He has told me no many times, but he always did it with a smile and with respect. This man has served with integrity, with honor, and with respect, and he truly does it with a servant’s heart,” said Chesney. “You still may not get what you want,” responded Neal, which evoked a roar of laughter from the crowd.
After Judge Neal concluded his talk, those in attendance offered their thanks for his many years of devoted service to the citizens. Neal still has about 18 months of service left. All agreed that he will be greatly missed.
Other FBBA News
- Chairman Hunter attended the meeting with KIII TV 3 in tow to demonstrate how our elected officials will continue to take care of business even in light of the shooting at the baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, where Republican members of Congress were holding baseball practice.
- City Council Members Michael Hunter, Paulette Guajardo, and Greg Smith also attended the meeting. Smith made mention of the many elected officials at the local and state levels who made the meeting and thanked them for being in attendance. Smith went on to say how he and the other council members are starting to work on Bond 2018. “Laguna Shores is number one on the list for me,” said Smith. “Finally, after all these years, Laguna Shores is going to be taken care of.”
- Nueces County Commissioner Brent Chesney led the group in a moment of silence in honor of those where were victims of the Alexandria shootings. Chesney followed up with a report on the Sand Castle Run, which earned $38,000 for kids with diabetes to attend camp. He thanked everyone who played a role in the event.
- Susan Lawson of the Coastal Bend Friends of Aquatics was happy to announce that Parker Pool is open for business. FBBA Board Member Mark Thomas appealed to those in attendance to sponsor the pool, which serves hundreds of kids, many of whom are indigent. Admission to the pool is $1 for children ages 3 to 17. Adults get in for $3.00, with those over 60 paying $1.25. All first responders and military (active or retired) get in free with an ID.
- The CBFA offers signs with full color printing, graphic design, and grommets for businesses to advertise at the pool. A 4′ X 4′ sign is $350, while a 4′ X 8′ sign is $650. Signs will will be displayed until the 2018 season. The pool is available for parties. Up to 50 guests for 2 hours will cost $200, which covers rental of pool and 2 lifeguards. For every additional hour, $100 will be charged, plus $25 for each additional lifeguard per 25 guests over 50. For more information, contact Susan Lawson at 361-779-8634.
- Flour Fest is coming to Parker Memorial Park on Saturday, October 28! Vendors and food trucks may secure a spot at the event by visiting the FBBA website and signing up. Sponsorships for the event are also available. Contact FBBA Event Coordinator Jonathan Vela for more information: 512-937-8769.
Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day. She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.