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The Midland County Attorney recently asked the Attorney General whether a county may provide funding to a school district for grounds maintenance, a library, and law enforcement.

According to the Attorney General, Article III, section 52(a) of the Texas Constitution prohibits the expenditure of county funds for private purposes unless the county (1) ensures the predominant purpose of the expenditure is to accomplish a public purpose of the county, not to benefit private parties; (2) retains sufficient control over the public funds to ensure the public purpose of the county is accomplished; and (3) ensures the county receives a return benefit.

Citing the Texas Supreme Court, the Attorney General stated, “Spending public funds for a legitimate public purpose to obtain a clear public benefit, however, is not an unconstitutional grant of public funds.”

Whether a particular expenditure contemplated by Midland County satisfies this three-part test is a determination for the county commissioners court in the first instance subject to judicial review. With respect to the proposed expenditures to a school district, the specific question for the commissioners court is whether providing law enforcement services, grounds maintenance, and a library for an independent school district serves a specific county purpose.

To accomplish this, counties and school districts may enter into an agreement that imposes upon the district the obligation to accomplish a public purpose of the county and ensures that the county receives a return benefit.  County funds may also be used to fulfill a statutory function of the county. Districts should consult with their school attorneys to confirm that any use of county funds complies with this opinion. The opinion is Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. KP-0237.

 

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