Commissioners approve purchase, sale of properties
By BRITTANY FHOLER
As part of their regular meeting on Monday morning the Coryell County commissioners met in executive session to discuss real estate matters. After coming out of executive session, the court approved a sales contract to purchase two adjacent properties across the street from the Courthouse at 113 S. 7th Street and 115 S. 7th Street in Gatesville for a total of $160,000. The total property is about 4,500 square feet of office space with a cost of about $35/square foot. The purpose of the purchase is to relieve shortage of office space needed for the District Attorney and the 44th District Court.
The court also approved listing the sale of all or a portion of the property at 420 East Main St. in Gatesville, one block west of the Courthouse. The purpose is to provide funds to help purchase the office space above, as well as put that property back on the tax rolls since there is no long-term county objective for the land.
The commissioners also discussed the impact of the Texas House of Representatives and Senate’s proposed budgets on county government.
The Texas House passed their version of the state budget in the early hours of April 7. The Texas Senate had come up with theirs March 28. County Judge John Firth explained that the State Constitution requires a balanced budget without the use of property taxes. The next step will be for the House and Senate to form a joint committee to work out a balanced budget, Firth said.
The County Governments, and their counties, are affected by both proposed budgets.
The current budget for FY 2016-2017 allots $21 million towards grants for counties to do courthouse renovations. The Senate’s budget reduces that funding by 71 percent, to $6,161,190. The House budget reduces that funding by 95 percent, to only $1,161,190.
“Basically, that means wherever they end up, it will be at a point where there isn’t going to be much to help counties in terms of courthouse restoration,” Firth said.
Both budgets propose reduced funding for County Indigent Health by 60 percent. The current budget for FY 2016-2017 allotted $4,372,889. Both would reduce that to $1,758,253.
This means there is less money for the county should a challenge come up and they exceed state mandates, Firth said.
“The state basically requires the counties to pay up to 8 percent of their operating budget for indigent health...which is basically anything that someone doesn’t qualify for Medicaid or CHIPS or anything else,” Firth said. “So when we have the national discussions about healthcare, the reality is, in Texas, we the counties are the health provider of last resort.”
The House and the Senate bills also took aim at Volunteer Fire Departments in cities and towns.
“It’s a good thing that Jonesboro and Oglesby and Turnersville have all gotten their grants because both budgets are looking at a 35 or 36 percent reduction in those volunteer fire department grant money that will be available,” Firth said.
Volunteer Fire Department Acct 5064 covers grant programs to local volunteer fire departments (mainly cities and counties), providing them with equipment and training. The current FY 2016-2017 budget has $53,420,012 for this. The Senate proposes reducing it by 36 percent to $34,117,347. The House budget would reduce it by 35 percent to $34,603,097.
However, the Rural Volunteer Fire Department Acct 5066, which covers grants to the more rural area volunteer fire departments, saw a 47 percent increase in funding in both budgets, from $2 million to $2,930,000.
In the packet handed out to the Commissioners and media, there were also examples of either one or both of the budget bills eliminating programs altogether.
Firth said that when the House and Senate finally agree on a budget, “where this all sorts out here in the next few weeks is going to be interesting, to say the least, and it’s going to have profound implications for county government.”
The court took no action on a burn ban for unincorporated Coryell County due to the rain that came through Monday evening.
The court approved Coryell County Resolution No. 2017-06 for the County Attorney’s Victim Coordinator and Liaison Grant and Coryell County Resolution No. 2017-07 for the 52nd Judicial District’s Victim Coordinator and Liaison Grant.
Firth said the main reasons to support these two resolutions are because the offices are important and that “part of the main effort across the country is making sure that as we prosecute crime, that we keep in mind, not just in terms of the prosecution but in terms of making sure that victims have their rights covered, and it’s the offices we have here in the county that support those crime victims that means so much to them and everybody in the county.”
Brandy Johnson, Crime Victims’ Coordinator for Coryell County, explained what the grants are for. The grants- one for the County Attorney’s office and one for the 52nd Judicial District Attorney’s office- are for a victim’s advocate.
“The advocate would get the cases, notify victims of their rights, keep them up to date as to what is happening in the court process, be there for them to answer any and all questions- if they can’t answer it, get with the county attorney or the district attorney,” Johnson said. “They’re kind of the go between because we know the attorneys are generally busy.”
The maximum amount that can be asked for is $42,000 which would cover salary, general office equipment and a little bit extra, Johnson said.