Child Advocacy Groups Receive Annual Support from County; Commissioners Appear Combative Over Some Agenda Items

September 16, 2015

Gary Rholes, Shelby County Attorney, is seen speaking about CAC and CASA. Tanya Harry, Executive Director for CASA, and Patty Watkins, CASA Volunteer Supervisor arfe seen seated behind Rhole

The Shelby County Commissioners Court meeting took on a somewhat ornery tone at times during deliberations Monday, September 14, 2015 over such items as an additional deputy for the Sheriff's Department or adoption of the budget. On the other hand local child advocacy groups were well received by the commissioners.

Tanya Harry, Executive Director for CASA, and Patty Watkins, CASA Volunteer Supervisor, were present representing CASA and Harry addressed the court.

"This is my first opportunity to just express our gratitude that we are one of the agencies that receives an allocation from the Child Safety Fund," said Harry. "It does help our agency keep going here; we are able to serve roughly about 50 children that are in foster care and we have three employees here in Shelby County to serve those children."

Gary Rholes, Shelby County Attorney, spoke with the court about the Children's Advocacy Center and referenced an article which was written by the president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA), C. Barrett Thomas, about the Children's Advocacy Center which Rholes says TYLA has taken on as a cause. (See article, A Child's Story - Link)

"The president makes a lot of good points, that the child testimony is often the product of more than 40,000 interviews that are done at 69 local [Children's] Advocacy Centers (CAC), and these are used by law enforcement, CPS, everybody involved in taking care of children, this is a daily part of their job," said Rholes.

Rholes explained most people don't know what Children's Advocacy Center does, and until he was on the board, neither did he. Investigations of child abuse are partly handled by the organization and evidence gained is often used in case investigation and in the courtroom.

Agenda items receiving approval include:

  1. August 10th regular meeting August 24th Special meeting, August 24th Budget Hearing, August 26th Public meeting, August 31st Special meeting.
    Pay monthly expenses.
  2. Officers' reports.
  3. Distribute from the Child Safety Fund 65% to the Children's Advocacy Center and 35% to CASA.
  4. Maintenance on an additional 345.77 feet at the end of CR 1076.
  5. Retain the burn ban until there is sufficient rain.
  6. Interlocal Cooperation Agreement between San Augustine County, Shelby County, and Sabine County for the Texas Veterans Commission Transportation Assistance Program Grant.
  7. Lower compensation for collecting delinquent taxes for each taxing unit the county collects for from 1% for current taxes and 5% for delinquent taxes down to 1% for current taxes and 1% for delinquent taxes.
  8. Hire part-time position for Tax Assessor-Collector for the coming year.
  9. Sheriff and Constable Fees for Shelby County to take effect January 1, 2016.
  10. Advertise for bids on gravel, tires, fuel and custodial services for Shelby County.
  11. Commissioner Court dates for FY 2015-2016 as the 2nd and 4th Mondays of the month.
  12. County Holidays for 2016.
  13. Proposed Shelby County Budget for FY 2015-2016.
  14. Tax Rate of .0678 for FY 2015-2016.

"CAC appreciates all the money that y'all have distributed to that cause and also to CASA who are wonderful people that do great work also," said Rholes.

Denise Merriman, Shelby County Children's Advocacy Center Director, expressed appreciation on behalf of CAC, "I just wanted to say thanks again, just to let you know that we continue to depend on your support, appreciate your support. We continue to see about 100 new victims each year, which results in closer to 200 that come through the building as far as counseling with the families and family advocacy and different stuff we do to follow the families through the whole court proceedings."

Merriman stated the benefit is not something that is taken lightly and the local support says a lot to the state by demonstrating the trust of the county in the organization.

Judge Harbison stated there currently is $19,570.51 in the Child Safety Fund of which the county retains a 10% administration fee and a percentage has to be distributed to incorporated cities in the county. This leaves $12,866.80 available for distribution and a motion was carried to continue what has been done in the past and distribute 65% to the Children's Advocacy Center and 35% to CASA.

"I think both organizations are just great, I mean, if we can save one child it was worth going through this to do it, and I'm a firm believer in that," said Judge Harbison.

A motion was carried by the commissioners to retain the burn ban until there has been sufficient rain in the county. Roscoe McSwain, Precinct 1 Commissioner, stated he spoke with a Forestry Service representative on Monday morning who stated the atmosphere currently is dangerous and is changing daily.

During the meeting a motion was carried to approve an interlocal cooperation agreement between San Augustine County, Shelby County, and Sabine County for the Texas Veterans Commission Transportation Assistance Program Grant.

"San Augustine County is going out for a grant to get $20,000 to help veterans get back and forth to their doctors appointments, and I think it's a great program and I would like for us to support it," said Judge Harbison.

A request was made by Sheriff Willis Blackwell, via a letter, to provide some overtime pay for Investigators Kevin Windham and Donnie Dickerson as on August 24, 2015 - August 28, 2015 they worked an additional 33 hours over their normal time.

"They are salaried employees? Just like myself. We don't charge any, we don't get paid any overtime. Here a while back, well it was the day of that wreck, I had to work nine hours over and I didn't get anything for it. My employees got comp time, overtime and you know, the way I look at it what's good for the goose is good for the gander that's just my opinion," said Jimmy Lout, Commissioner Precinct 2.

The investigators with the Sheriff's Department are always working with a time factor, whether it be locating evidence or a suspect, time is always of the essence. Comp time is not something available to the investigators, they have a flat salary with no promise of overtime.

Perhaps a different method of payment will need to be implemented for the officers to receive the full value of their work. The investigators were put on salary by Sheriff Blackwell to help eliminate overtime expense, Dickerson in January of 2013 and Windham when he was hired May 2014. At the time they went on salary the investigators did receive an increase of $1,200.

"When the hurricanes come through, we worked several days, day and half the night, none of the commissioners got an extra penny for it or our employees get pay because they're not on salary. But, I just don't see where myself, where we can pay salary people overtime," said Lout.

Commissioner McSwain agreed with Commissioner Lout. However, in contrast to working several days following a hurricane several years ago, the investigators have multiple occurrences throughout the year, on any given year, where their hours will likely require them to mirror that of the commissioners hours following said hurricane. According to Sheriff Blackwell's letter, this request is not "something that will become a matter of habit."

Roscoe McSwain, Commissioner Precinct 1.

Judge Harbison stated the hours were accumulated investigating several burglaries which have recently been solved. The commissioners opted to take no action on the item.

The Sheriff's Department has been down one deputy since two positions were cut from the department a couple of years ago. Judge Harbison presented the option of adding another deputy position on to the department to bring the number of officers to what it once was, "I know that on the weekend they're short-handed and it's a $50,000 investment if he wants to hire another deputy to help cover the nights and weekends and things like that," said Judge Harbison.

Shad Sparks, Chief Deputy, remarked there are two staff administrators currently patrolling with the other deputies, because there aren't enough officers to go around. He stated the department provides 24-hour coverage, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and at times there is only one deputy on patrol such as on weekend days.

"That's a safety concern for me, I worked when there was four patrol deputies, I understand that, I understand putting 425 miles on a patrol car in a 10-hour shift. We're a lot busier than we was when I was a patrol deputy, we have a lot more going on and like I said we are still short-handed," said Sparks.

Jimmy Lout, Commissioner Precinct 2.

According to Sparks, having an additional officer would help to make the department a more proactive department and not just reactive as the department is currently. Having an additional officer will increase the possibility of having two deputies patrolling at the same time on occasions when there is only one. Judge Harbison stated she would love to see an extra deputy on patrol at night and on the weekends.

A rough estimate of the cost for an additional deputy is $50,000 a year and according to Clint Porterfield, County Auditor, the Sheriff is currently below budget. Chief Sparks agreed the department has been under budget and this is partially due to the officers fondness of working at the department. Judge Harbison stated there are nine deputies working for the Sheriff currently, which includes a civil service deputy and a transport deputy.

"There hasn't been the overtime, if they do get the overtime we make it a point that if they're available to take that time off you know, they take it off," said Sparks.

Judge Harbison entertained a motion to approve the new deputy. Commissioner Lout made the motion and following a delayed response from anyone else in the court was seconded by Judge Harbison. When it was put to a vote, Commissioners Lout and McSwain voted for the hire while Commissioners Rodgers and Allen sat in silence. After a clarification was made of who voted, Allen decided to vote for the hire as well. Although apparently reluctant, Rodgers finally stated to Judge Harbison, "It's against my better judgment, but I'll say aye, but you and I need to have a talk after court."

Presented to the court for approval was the proposed Shelby County Budget for 2015-2016. Judge Harbison gave a rundown of several changes in the budget. Those items included: reduction of the copier lease by $41,144; emergency services receiving an increase of $7,000 bringing the total to $10,000; rent for Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 from $600 increased to $2,400; cash balances of all commissioners also will be included; a new deputy at the Sheriff's Department and an additional part-time employee in the Tax Assessor-Collector office at a cost of $15,000.

Denise Merriman (standing), Shelby County Children's Advocacy Center Director, spoke with the commissioners during the meeting.

"I'm going to make an addendum to the proposals for road and bridge to budget $200,000 of your cash balance to fixed assets in the event that an equipment purchase or something is needed," said Porterfield. "The only other item that is not listed on your sheet, as all of you know, we have a plethora of funds and we have to balance those funds so that we can budget expenses, and we have 40 or 50 of them of various types."

According to Judge Harbison, the General Fund budget is $6.5 million, the Road and Bridge is $1.14 million and the total Operating Expense budget is $10.6 million.

A motion was made by Commissioner Lout to approve the proposed budget and following a long delay before a second of the motion, Judge Harbison made the second and entertained discussion of the budget.

"I just want everyone to be mindful of the growth we're putting in the budget, the add on things that we're doing and what the raise and the insurance cost is going to cost the county, I just want everyone to be mindful of that and keep that in mind, because that's a substantial growth to the overall cost of the budget in one year's time," said McSwain.

"As close as the budget has come considerably," stated Rodgers.

"I don't want to harp on the raise, everyone getting a raise because I do believe everyone needs a raise. I just want to be mindful of insurance cost increase and raise increase in salaries is going to be over $400,000. That is a substantial cost to the budget one time for a one year adjustment," said McSwain

With a tone of foreboding Rodgers warned ominously, "That the taxpayers are going to have to pay."

Judge Harbison asked Porterfield if the budgets of everyone in the county have remained in the black. Porterfield stated the General Fund has put back money in the last two years, as can be seen in audit reports, which he suspects will happen again this year.

"We've received more revenue than we budgeted, we're under on expenses," said Porterfield.

Following Porterfield's statement, McSwain interjected a call for equality in the advancement of departments, "You've got to balance out because you've got to take care of your employees, just like Road and Bridge because you can't keep them, they're going to move on. I ain't got nothing against that, but also if I'm going to charge the taxpayer to take care of my employee, I'm going to give them more services. If I can throw $300,000-$400,000 in benefits and salary, why can't I grow that much at Road and Bridge, we just growed law enforcement $50,000 Road and Bridge should be growing."

The motion to adopt the budget carried.

The commissioners considered adopting the tax rate for the county. Porterfield explained the tax rate is the effective one and is a rate increase per se, yet is not a dollar increase as the county is bringing in the same revenue as the previous year based on the adjusted tax base.

The meeting was adjourned at 10:35am.

Judge Harbison spoke with Shelby County Today after the meeting and explained the figure McSwain stated of $400,000 was not exactly accurate partly due to contributing factors and the actual figure is $130,493, "The general fund will be in the black at least that much so it will not even affect the General Fund, because we'll have a cash balance of at least that much at the end of this month. It's not going to cost us a dime more, it's pretty much going to be a wash."

Fees collected per office for August:

  1. Deborah Riley, Tax Assessor/Collector, office: Property Division - $156,945.83; Motor Vehicle Division - $33,382.29 for a total of $190,328.12
  2. Jennifer Fountain, County Clerk: $40,692.37
  3. Lori Oliver, District Clerk: $9,339.87
  4. Maxie Eaves, Justice of the Peace Precinct 1: $7,788
  5. Marla Denby, Justice of the Peace Precinct 2: $1,414.60
  6. Margie Anderson, Justice of the Peace Precinct 3: $6,890.88
  7. Jenny Hicks, Justice of the Peace Precinct 4: $4,462
  8. Mike Crouch, Justice of the Peace Precinct 5: $7,663
  9. Zach Warr, Constable Precinct 1: $990
  10. Jamie Hagler, Constable Precinct 2: $90
  11. Billy Hearnsberger, Constable Precinct 3: $90
  12. Bryan Gray, Constable Precinct 4: $355
  13. Stanley Burgay, Constable Precinct 5: $180

Grand total: $270,283.84

CDs generated $18.25 for a total book value of $60,022.70
Money Market generated $682.50 total market value of $1,719,215.74
Total investments as of September 9, 2015 $1,779,238.44