This chapter focuses on the local government in Texas and provides a comprehensive understanding of Texas’s one-size-fits-all approach to county government, its historical context, the different types of issues that local governments face, and how public education and special districts serve as other forms of local government.
Local governments in Texas, especially county governments, are extensions of the state government acting as an administrative arm of the state. At the local level, municipalities, school districts, special districts, water conservation districts, and a myriad of boards and commissions allow citizens to participate in various elected and appointed capacities. Counties are constitutionally limited in their authority, and the 254 counties in the state vary in geographical size, population, natural resources, and property values. This is controversial in that counties rely primarily on property taxes to provide basic services, including law enforcement, courts and jails, the building and maintaining of roads and bridges, and recordkeeping for the state. County officeholders are elected in partisan elections.
Municipal governments are very nonpartisan and are established within two categories: home rule cities and general law cities. Among home rule cities, there are three basic forms of government: strong mayor–council, weak mayor–council, and a city manager form of government. Zoning and planning, annexation, and economic development are frequent controversial issues in city government. At the same time, Texas cities invest a great deal of revenue in law enforcement, fire protection, roads, parks, and infrastructure improvements.
The state government exercises powers over their creation and the policies that must be administered and adhered to in the district. Within the limits of jurisdiction and the authority of county and municipal governments in Texas, a vast mosaic of special district governments have been established to provide services that might not be provided at the county or municipal level. Municipalities primarily rely on sales taxes and property tax revenue to meet the demands of the community. Property tax increases associated with rising property values in many communities have given rise to conflict and continued discussion in both local and state politics in Texas.