The Hays County Commissioners Court authorized a resolution establishing a new county district court and approved its 2020 fiscal year report at its March 30 meeting.
The court unanimously approved a resolution calling for the creation of an additional district court within Hays County to assist with the growing population and court system caseload. The district court will go into effect on Sept. 1, 2022.
The resolution came after District 45 State Rep. Erin Zwiener introduced various Texas Legislature bills and requested the court to submit its feedback and resolutions on the bills, one of which asked for the creation of the new court.
Judicial District Judge Bill Henry urged the commissioners to approve the bill now, rather than later, and to add the extended district court to save the county millions of dollars due to its slow pace and lack of judicial resources.
“There are some judicial resource issues and because of our exploding population, our caseload has expanded greatly," Henry says. "Then COVID hit, and we got further behind with no jury trials. You know we have 511 people in jail today. The vast majority of those individuals are waiting on trials in district court. It's important to know it costs somewhere between $6,000 and $10,000 per day for our citizens to house these people. Our people need better access to their courts."
Smith believes the new court is necessary but does not want to only focus on the help needed to process criminal cases but also on the growing number of civil cases.
“If we were to support this, this would be the third Hays-only district court we would have,” Smith says. “I for one, knowing with all the new residents we have, that the civil caseload is growing astronomically and it's only going to grow astronomically for the foreseeable future.”
The court also discussed the cost of adding the additional court. Due to it being a state bill, the district judge's salary would be paid for; however, costs such as bailiff and court reporter salaries would need to be covered and planned for by the county. One of Commissioner Lon Shell’s concerns is assuring the county can afford to supply the assisting staff to the district court.
“I want to make sure when this all comes down to budget time, that we're prepared to fund everything that we're talking about and not writing checks that we can't cash,” Shell says. “That's one of my concerns, is that we make sure we plan for that accordingly because there are costs associated with that."
Shell also questions the security of adding the court. He says if various courts were being facilitated at the same time there could be a lack of space, meaning issues like this need to be considered beforehand.
Henry says while many of the details will require focus and planning, the court will ultimately benefit the county.
"I think it's going to be a labor-intensive process in every county in the state,” Henry says. “The more people we can have working on that the more efficient we can be, which translates to bottom-line dollars in jail savings and bottom-line protection for our citizens.”
Commissioners also reviewed the county’s financial statements with the help of ABIP, P.C. Certified Public Accountant before approving the Fiscal Year 2020 Hays County Comprehensive Annual Financial Report prepared by the Hays County Auditor office.
The report includes a certificate to the county’s auditor for the achievement of excellence in financial reporting for the fiscal year 2019. It also holds information concerning the county's demographics, economics, governmental activities and statistical information.
The commissioners did not give an official date to when the report will be released to the public.
Hays County Emergency Services Office Director Mike Jones thanked Wimberley First Baptist Church for the dedicated services it has provided during the county vaccine distribution. He says the church will soon distribute vaccinations from the county’s private partners.
“The pastor of the church has offered his platform out there to continue vaccinations with some of our private partners," Jones says. "We actually have one of our private partners who are going to take a look at the footprint, identify the best way to do an ongoing vaccination clinic out there Monday through Friday. So, I'm looking forward to bringing that to court."
The commissioners also continued to examine the county’s salary market analysis conducted by its human resources department which compares the pay of "tax pay workers" to other counties. Hays County Human Resources Director Shari Miller says the department takes several factors into consideration when determining which counties are compared to Hays County.
“We look at population estimates, percentage change of population, number of employees, budget information, taxable property value, tax rates, owner-occupied housing unit medium values and then location where the county is located in terms of major highways or interstates,” Miller says.
Other counties, such as Brazos, Smith and Hector, were inspected for their increase in growth, salaries paid, highway expansions and community progressiveness. After the inspection, the human resources department brought the information it gathered to the commissioners to compare the differences found and highlight possible strategies to promote similar growth in Hays County.
Hays County Interim Development Services Director Marcus Pacheco assisted the commissioners in recognizing Tom Pope, Hays County chief environmental health specialist/floodplain administrator, for his 36 years of service to Hays County. Pope retired from his position on March 31.
“I've had the ultimate privilege of working alongside Tom for the past five years and have been honored to witness the relentless dedication and true passion showed through Mr. Pope's work,” Pacheco says.
Each commissioner also personally appreciated Pope for his years of service to the county.
The Hays County Commissioners Court meets every Tuesday at 9 a.m. For more information visit its website.