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Courtroom space tops Victoria County budget concerns

By Melissa Crowe
Aug. 8, 2012 at 3:08 a.m.


CASA REQUEST

Golden Crescent Court Appointed Special Advocates requested $78,000 in funding from Victoria County Commissioners.

Tim Hornback, executive director for CASA, said any allocation would be direct investment in Victoria.

"We're working with kids and families," he said.

If CASA can stamp out the community's cyclical child abuse, Victoria County can have a better future, Hornback said.

Of the 373 children served last year, 229, or 61 percent, came from Victoria, Hornback said.

County Judge Don Pozzi said he is hopeful the county will be able to assist.

"Anytime kids are involved, we certainly want to look at it very carefully and see if there is anything we can do," he said.

Since Jan. 1, 182 children, or 65 percent receiving CASA support, are from Victoria.

Hornback estimated it costs $975 to serve each child, creating a $190,000 annual cost.

Of that, federal and state sources pay $76,000, and United Way of Victoria provides $32,000.

Hornback said the nonprofit organization is trying to maintain a six-month reserve. CASA has $124,000 in reserves. But with monthly expenses of $26,000, if all funding stopped, the reserve would be spent in less than five months.

No decision was made on county funding for the organization.

The Victoria County Courthouse is home to almost twice as many judges as courtrooms.

Judicial growing pains have been an issue for the past eight years, but during a budget workshop Wednesday, county commissioners agreed to start looking for, or adding on, extra space.

County Judge Don Pozzi added $25,000 to professional services in the budget to hire an architect to study options.

As it stands, there are only five courtrooms for eight judges.

Either new courtrooms for County Court-at-Law No. 1 and No. 2 could be built in a completely new structure on downtown county-owned property, or the county's existing courthouse or tax annex buildings could be expanded upward, Pozzi said.

In 2008, commissioners started work on an expansion, but the downturn in the economy put the brakes on the project, Pozzi said.

"Before any other plans for expansion of anything else, that problem needs to be first addressed," Pozzi said regarding courtroom space.

Ultimately, the timing of the plan is one of the most crucial aspects.

Commissioner Kevin Janak said he wants to time the project so the bill's first payment is made in 2015.

"It makes a lot of sense that we do this remodeling project," Janak said.

After a $1.3 million principal payment on the county's debt in 2013, the county's total debt will still exceed $9 million.

The county is expected to pay off three debts in 2015 totaling about $1.5 million, said County Auditor Judy McAdams.

The remaining debt, $8.5 million in Certificate of Obligation bonds issued in 2010, will be paid off in 2030, McAdams said.

There is no indication that construction will begin in 2013, Pozzi said.

Commissioners also considered, but did not reach a final decision, about their auto insurance policy with Trident Insurance.

Because the court has not looked at new policies in 11 years, Pozzi recommended opening a bidding process for next year.

The largest portion of the county's fleet is at the sheriff's office, which has 98 vehicles and is expected to receive seven new vehicles in 2013.

In 2012, the total premium for the sheriff's office totaled $72,336, and is estimated to cost $80,618 in 2013.

Vehicles five years old and newer have full coverage.

Janak wants the entire fleet dropped to liability insurance only with comprehensive coverage for vehicles three years and newer.

Comprehensive coverage would apply to any animal versus vehicle incident, which Janak said was more common than a car hitting another car.

Commissioner Clint Ives said he wants to see a similar program, but with full coverage on vehicles three years and newer.

Quotes were not available at the budget workshop meeting for potential savings.

Pozzi said it would not be "substantial," but nonetheless would still reduce the premiums.

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