Johnson County commissioners must soon decide how best to match department head and elected official requests and the costs of a growing county against the reality of available funds.
Commissioners spent Monday listening to those requests.
The court will reconvene at 9 a.m. next Monday to begin deciding which of those requests to include or not include in next year’s budget. The county’s new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
“Everything we’ve heard today as far as requests is on hold until we see our property tax roll numbers and revenues,” County Judge Roger Harmon said. “So we’ll start again next Monday when we’ll get our numbers from [Tax Assessor Collector Scott Porter and County Auditor Kirk Kirkpatrick.]”
Commissioners on Monday heard budget requests from 19 department heads and elected officials.
Sheriff Adam King presented his proposals during the afternoon session, which included requests for two new employees.
“I’m going to go ahead and jump off in the deep end of the pool with the big ticket items of personnel,” King said.
King requested a bailiff position for a new court soon to be established in the Guinn Justice Center.
“We have a CPS court coming that we’re hoping to get three days a week in Johnson County,” King said. “That should take about 70 cases a month off our existing courts. So I’m asking for a new bailiff for that court. That person would start in January, which is when the court is scheduled to start.”
The new court should help the county in several ways, Harmon said.
“What it will do is save our county a lot of money by taking a good number of cases off our existing district and county court at law courts,” Harmon said. “It will also keep us from having to hire a new district or county court at law judge for a while. The only caveat is that they will need a bailiff.”
The court will otherwise cost the county no money, County Attorney Bill Moore said.
“Right now we rotate those [Texas Department of Family & Protective Services] cases between our existing courts,” Moore said. “With the new court, the state is furnishing the associate judge and a coordinator for that judge.
“It will help our judges by them not having to hear those hearings and keep us from needing new judges for some time. The new court will cover eight counties including us. They wanted to house it here because, of the eight counties, we have the most CPS cases.”
Commissioner Larry Woolley called the effectiveness of the new court and the need for an additional bailiff a no brainer. Woolley noted, however, that department heads and elected officials on Monday requested 14.5 new employees between them and stressed that no decisions will be made until the tax roll numbers are presented next week.
Commissioners said the same when asked by Personnel Director Randy Gillespie whether the court is considering across-the-board COLA raises for employees.
King requested an additional transport officer as well.
“We’ve been inundated with inmates with mental health issues, and our juvenile transports have increased too,” King said. “MHMR used to contract with mental health facilities around the Metroplex but now they’ve contracted with a place in Wichita Falls so we’re having to make those two, two-and-a-half hour trips each way and our guys are stretched thin.
“And a lot of times that requires several trips back and forth to Wichita Falls to bring those people back for their court hearings.”
King requested raises for three officers for now working as school resource officers for Alvarado ISD. As such AISD pays their salaries, but that will soon change.
“AISD is forming their own police department,” King said. “So those officers of ours will be coming back to their open positions here, which have not been filled. The only thing I’m asking for there is that the salaries they make with AISD are more than the salaries budgeted for the sheriff’s office and so I’m asking the court to make up that difference.”
Equipment wise, King requested 25 vests for deputies at $724 a piece.
“Of course, I’ve applied for grants as well on those but don’t know yet if we’ll get that,” King said.
King requested 38 automated external defibrillators for patrol vehicles at a cost of $1,050 each.
“That’s a good price,” King said. “When I priced them in the past they were more than twice that. We have six to eight old refurbished ones now, which we would give to transport or CID if needed if we get the new ones.
“We want one in each patrol vehicle. Those guys are already out in the field when calls go out and they usually beat the ambulance to the scene.
King requested eight new patrol vehicles.
“For everyone you give us, we’re taking one off the road,” King replied when asked by Harmon how many vehicles he plans to take out of patrol.
Those vehicles, though high in mileage, still have use, King said.
“We have desperate need for vehicles in CID,” King said. “What they have are worn out. Some are hand me downs from probation and all have a ton of miles on them. The patrol cars they’ll be getting have a lot of miles but are still better and have more useful life than what they have now.
King also requested three additional new cars, that don’t look like police cars, for use by CID.
Commissioners asked King’s opinion on whether the county should resume operation of the county jail. The county has for several years contracted with LaSalle Corrections to run the jail, which remains county owned. LaSalle’s current contract expires in August 2020.
“It’s a discussion we need to be having and something we need to consider,” King said. “But first we need to determine how much it’s going to cost us to run the jail.”
Commissioner Rick Bailey questioned the cost as well.
“We need to know how many officers LaSalle is paying and how much that’s going to cost us if we take operation of that jail back over,” Bailey said.
Moore followed King.
“Obviously you know we’re out of money,” Commissioner Jerry Stringer joked.
Commissioner Kenny Howell continued.
“We just spent the last dime of it on the sheriff so you’re out of luck Bill,” Howell said.
Good news, Moore countered, he hadn’t increased any line items in his budget and in fact reduced postage by $500 and polygraph costs by $600.
Moore, however, requested a new secretary at a cost of $27,000 per year. The secretary is necessary to scan several hundred boxes of case files, which by law have to be scanned into the court’s computer system.
Moore also requested a raise.
“House Bill 2384, which passed this year, amended the benchmark salaries for judges and prosecutors,” Moore said. “Mine is $8,000 less than that benchmark and I’m asking to increase that to get me up to that benchmark.”
Commissioners also touched upon the possibility of hiring an engineer for the public works department either in the upcoming budget year or the near future.
“Our growth has reached a point where we’re paying so much for outside engineering services that it would be fiscally prudent to have our own and do most of that in house,” Woolley said.