Victoria Commissioners deny sheriff's office downtown fence

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Nov. 12, 2013 at 5:12 a.m.

The Victoria County sheriff wants to redirect unspent salaries to fund $317,300 in other projects.

However, county commissioners put the brakes on his plan Tuesday, saying one of the projects is out of line with the atmosphere of downtown.

Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor called the projects, which included a $76,000 fence around the parking lot at Glass and Constitution streets, "critical needs."

"We're not asking you for funds over and above the budget," O'Connor said.

During the budget process, commissioners approved increasing the sheriff's budget about $500,000, which included four patrol deputies, a lieutenant, a warrant officer and a training clerk.

The sheriff was able to find $317,300 in unspent salaries that were budgeted for 150 employees across 17 salary categories.

Deputy Chief Jeffrey Wendling said the fence should have been addressed in the past.

"It's a huge issue if you think about it in terms of 'what if,'" he said.

Wendling said the fence would prevent confiscated vehicles stored at the lot from being stolen and would be a secure location for inmates if the jail has to be evacuated in the event of a fire or riot.

While the jail was evacuated before Hurricane Ike, County Judge Don Pozzi said the "likelihood of having to clear out the jail is pretty remote."

"I think, for the most part, those problems can be solved in another way," Pozzi said.

Pozzi suggested the sheriff could move vehicles to the recently purchased Hartman Distributing property, which also has ample secured indoor space if a jail evacuation was needed.

The sheriff maintained that the fenced area is the best option.

"I'd rather be prepared to than to say the likelihood is remote," he said.

Commissioners worry a chain-link fence around the downtown lot would detract from the historical appearance of DeLeon Plaza.

"It's not conducive to what we're trying to accomplish in the city to improve downtown," Commissioner Danny Garcia said. "I'm not against having a fenced area; I'm against having it right there."

Other commissioners agreed.

"No on the fence, sheriff," Commissioner Clint Ives said. "I think it would be taking a step backward for the area."

The parking lot was recently used by the city to host a car show during Bootfest. Other events take advantage of the space as well.

The sheriff's office received approval to purchase new tablet computers and software for patrol cars, at a cost of $168,000, and electrical improvements to the sheriff's office basement totaling $44,900.

The court did not approve a $65,000 expense to repaint the basement.



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