Duties of the County Office
The Texas Constitution vests broad judicial and
administrative powers in the position of county judge,
who presides over a five-member commissioners court,
which has budgetary and administrative authority over
county government operations.
The county judge handles such widely varying matters as
hearings for beer and wine license applications, hearing
on admittance to state hospitals for the mentally ill
and mentally retarded, juvenile work permits and
temporary guardianships for special purposes. The judge
is also responsible for calling elections, posting
election notices and for receiving and canvassing the
election returns. The county judge may perform
A county judge in Texas may have judicial responsibility
for certain criminal, civil and probate matters -
responsibility for these functions vary from county to
county. In those counties in which the judge has
judicial responsibilities, the judge has appellate
jurisdiction over matters arising from the justice
courts. The county judge is also head of civil defense
and disaster relief, county welfare and in counties
under 225,000 population, the judge prepares the county
budget along with the county auditor or county clerk.
The job of the county commissioner calls for hands-on
service delivery as well as policy-making budget
Four commissioners, each elected from a quarter of the
county's population, serve along with the county judge
on the commissioners court. In addition to assuring that
county roads are maintained, commissioners vote with the
county judge to set the budget for all county
departments and adopt a tax rate.
Among other responsibilities, the commissioners court:
Sets the yearly property tax rate and approves the
budget and employment level for the county;
Sets commissioners and justice of the peace precinct
Calls, conducts and certifies elections, including bond
Sets employment and benefit policy;
Establishes long-range thoroughfare, open space, land
use, financial and law enforcement/jail needs plans;
Acquires property for rights-of-way or other uses
determined to be in the public's best interest;
Reviews and approve subdivision platting and wastewater
treatment for rural areas;
Provides rural ambulance services and subsidizes rural
Oversees the construction, maintenance and improvement
of county roads and bridges;
Appoints non-elected department heads and standing
Supervises and controls the county courthouse, county
buildings and facilities;
Adopts a county budget;
Determines county tax rates;
Fills vacancies in elective and appointive positions;
Has exclusive authority to authorize contracts in the
name of the county.
Effective enforcement of the law requires the
sure-handed expertise of a knowledgeable prosecutor.
The main duties of the county and/or district attorney
is to represent the state in criminal cases. The county
and/or district attorney works with law enforcement
officers in the investigation and preparation of cases
to be heard before the criminal courts. When requested
in writing, the county attorney provides legal counsel
to county officers.
The overwhelming importance of the office of public
prosecutors arises from the fact that upon the
prosecuting attorney rests the power of determining
whether prosecution in any given case shall be
inaugurated or, if inaugurated, pushed to a successful
Other duties include prosecution of juvenile offenders,
representation of victims of violence in protective
orders and representing the Texas Department of
Protective & Regulatory services in removing children
from abusive households.
District clerks are called on to assure that the affairs
of the district courts are maintained objectively with
the full confidence of judicial authorities.
The Texas Government Code states the duties and powers
of the clerk of the district court: "The clerk of the
District Court has custody of and shall carefully
maintain and arrange the records relating to or lawfully
deposited in the clerk's office." The district clerk
Record the acts and proceedings of the district court;
Enter all judgments of the court under the direction of
Record all executions issued and the returns issued on
Process passport applications;
Administer child support payments;
Administer trust accounts for minors ordered by the
Keep an index of the parties to all suits filed in the
court, and make reference to any judgment made in the
Keep an account of all funds collected by the office, by
way of fines and fees, and the amount due jurors in
district court for service.
Without county clerks, many of government's underlying
responsibilities would go undone.
The main duties of the county clerk are:
Administering all county and state elections, including
early voting and primaries, unless the commissioners
court has transferred the function to the tax
assessor-collector or an office of county election
Serving as clerk of the county court and the
commissioners court and keep records of the proceedings;
Acting as recorder of deeds and other instruments;
Filing and recording birth and death certificates;
Recording assumed names, wills and probate;
Issuing marriage licenses; and
Accounting for all funds paid to the office by way of
fines and fees, and the amount owed to county court
jurors for service.
In Texas counties with a population of less than 8,000,
unless there has been a special election, the county
clerk also serves as the district clerk, assuming all
constitutional and statutory duties of the district
clerk, along with those of county clerk.
Justice of the Peace:
The justice of the peace is the legal jurisdiction
closest to the average citizen.
Section 19 of Article 5 of the Texas Constitution
provides that: justice of the peace courts have original
jurisdiction in criminal matters of misdemeanor cases
punishable by fine only and such other jurisdiction as
may be provided by law. Original jurisdiction is the
authority to accept a case at its inception, try it and
pass judgment based upon the laws and facts. This is
distinguished from appellate jurisdiction which is
jurisdiction to review a court's action. The justice of
the peace performs the functions of a magistrate and
A justice of the peace may issue warrants for search and
arrest, conduct preliminary hearings, administers oaths,
perform marriages and serve as a coroner in counties
where there is no provision for a medical examiner. The
justice court also functions as a small claims court in
civil matters in which exclusive jurisdiction is not in
district or county court and the amount in controversy
does not exceed $5,000. They can also deal with matters
concerning foreclosure of mortgages and enforcement of
liens on personal property.
These peace officers are the first link in the county's
chain of law enforcement.
Along with their deputies, constables have all the
enforcement powers of Texas peace officers. They are
sometimes referred to as the executive officer of the
justice of the peace courts. Their duties are to:
Act as bailiff;
Execute judgments; and
Service of process.
In large metropolitan counties the constable may also
assist the county and district courts. In addition, they
may perform patrol functions and make criminal
investigations. They are involved in the overall effort
to reduce the effects of crime in their communities,
including in some cases the operation of truancy
Because of the wide range of responsibilities performed
by the assessor-collector, most citizens deal with this
county official more frequently than any other office.
The major tax duty of the assessor-collector, who
collects property taxes, is the assessment (calculation)
of taxes on each property in the county and collection
of that tax as established by the Constitution and the
State Property Tax Code. In addition, as an agent of the
Texas Department of Transportation, the
assessor-collector is responsible for the registration
and licensing of motor vehicles owned by residents of
Another duty of the county tax assessor-collector is
that of voter registrar. In most Texas counties, a
person would register to vote through the office of
county tax assessor-collector. In a few counties, the
commissioners court has designated the county clerk or
an elections administrator to provide this function. The
county tax office voter registration responsibilities
include accepting applications for voter registration,
issuing voter certificates, maintaining voter
registration lists, verifying petitions for local option
elections and submitting required reports to the
Secretary of State's Office.
The county tax assessor-collector is also responsible
for the collections of special fees imposed by the
county and state on coin-operated vending machines,
alcoholic beverage permits and registration and titling
The county treasurer is the county's banker.
The county treasurer, as the chief custodian of county
Receive all monies belonging to the county from whatever
Keep and account for all monies in a designated
Pay and apply or disburse all monies in such a manner as
commissioners court may direct, by law.
All receipts of any official belonging to the county
must be turned over to the county treasurer daily. The
county treasurer often acts as the chief liaison between
the county and all depository banks. In this capacity,
he or she maintains records of all deposits and
withdrawals, and reconciles all bank statements, thus
assuring their accuracy and the safety of county funds.
The county treasurer, who may be designated as the
county's investment officer, is required to submit
regular reports on county finance to the members of
commissioners court to inspect and verify.
The county auditor maintains the integrity of financial
administration of county government.
The county auditor's primary duty is to over see
financial record-keeping for the county and to assure
that all expenditures comply with the county budget. The
county auditor, by law, has continuous access to all
books and financial records and conducts detailed
reviews of all county financial operations.
The office of county auditor is neither created by nor
under the hierarchical control of the administrative
body - the commissioners court. While commissioners
court is the budgeting body in county government, both
the county auditor and commissioners court are required,
by law, to approve or reject claims for disbursement of
county funds. The integrity of county financial
administration is entrusted to a dual control system of
"checks and balances."
The county auditor has general oversight of all the
books and records of all county officials and is charged
with strictly enforcing laws governing county finances.