A case pleaded by Judge John Morris of the County Court of Law left Cooke County Commissioner’s considering the impact of a staff cut.
During Monday’s meeting, Morris told commissioners he was out of town when the court voted to remove a full-time clerk from his office under the proposed 2011 budget — a decision that he said will not only shove two times the responsibility on the remaining employee, but might mean the office would be closed to the public six times a month in order to keep up with the workload.
“You’re not only dismissing an employee, you’re changing the structure of the court since it’s creation,” Morris said of the nine-year employee structure.
Morris said that not only are the court’s 800 cases a month “too voluminous” for one clerk, but office closures would create a “drastic disservice” to the county’s residents.
The court, which handles five dockets including mental health, juvenile, probate, civil and criminal, can spend anywhere from a couple of days to more than a year resolving cases. Morris said the office’s workload isn’t going to change, despite the reduction of an employee. And while he said it’s possible one employee can complete all of the work, it’s likely the office will see a drop in efficiency.
Commissioners cut the position along with 11 others to tighten the pursestrings and stave off tax hikes.
And although eliminating the additional clerk position will bring the county savings of more than $37,000, if offices are closed, Morris said it’s still going to cost residents.
“In saving the county about $100 a day, you’re going to close our office for two-thirds of the month,” Morris said.
If commissioners do go through with the decision, he asked that the clerk’s salary, at the very least, match that of the district clerk’s. Morris said currently, the district clerk makes 27 percent more money, in an office that carries only half of the court at law’s caseload.
“How can you justify that when you ask two people to do the same job? I just don’t know,” Morris said.
Morris said he would need to submit an alternative budget that would be re-worked to provide for a substitute employee in the event the clerk needed a day off or took vacation.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Al Smith noted that the staff cut may be deserving of reconsideration.
However, when Precinct 2 Commissioner Steve Key motioned that the court be able to keep its clerk, no one seconded.
Also during Monday’s meeting, commissioners discussed repairs to three of the county’s buildings.
A representative from PSA-Dewberry Architecture of Dallas presented two options that would correct water damage and drainage issues at the Cooke County Public Library.
The first option would remedy problems with the existing structure, a plan that would increase the 7,072-square-foot building to 17,000 and add community meeting space which could be accessed for special functions after library hours. Plans would expand the building on three of four sides and re-orient the main entrance at a cost of around $780,000.
A new building, however, would likely be constructed in the parking lot of the current building, and would cost about $5.1 million once money for the lease of temporary space would be factored in.
Later during the meeting both Auditor Shelly Atteberry and Jennifer Johnson-Spence said the estimates seemed high.
Commissioners also heard from Justice of the Peace Jason Brinkley who asked for consideration in correcting structural and safety issues within the Precinct 4 building in Valley View.
Estimates from Mages Group, LLC deem repairs will cost about $35,000 to bring the electrical system up to code, install exit signs and replace rotted decking on the roof.
Brinkley told commissioners the building is nearing a century in age, and that it had endured plumbing issues during the winter when the city’s sewage system backed up.
Commissioners voted to allocate $35,148.60 for the project, with the stipulation that work must be completed by Sept. 30, before the end of the fiscal year.
Maintenance Director Ricky Kerr spoke in favor of repairs to the roof of the adult probation building. Commissioners moved to designate Gainesville Roofing to remove the building’s clay tiles and decking, to be replaced with a new waterproof plywood decking and tiles with a lifespan of about 50 years.
Kerr said the building is not currently leaking, thanks to a few repairs completed earlier this year, but that it will leak in the future if not corrected.
Commissioners agreed that work should be completed no later than Sept. 30.
After a proclamation signed Monday, commissioners designated August through September as United Way months in the county.
United Way has been active in Cooke County for 55 years and serves through 18 organizations.
Director Angie Hare said the agency hopes to raise $360,000, $5,000 more than last year.
A county resident voiced concerns for elderly residents who received fines for traffic violations. The woman said the fines can be difficult to finance for those living on Social Security. She noted that the county lets those younger than 18 perform community service as an alternative, but no option exists for those older than 65.
County Judge John Roane announced that the county will not be subject to a burn ban for at least the next two weeks, however parts of the county are still very dry. Roane asked that residents exercise extreme caution.
In other business:
• Atteberry added $840 to the library’s 2010-11 budget for employee fringe benefits.
• Precinct 1 Commissioner Gary Holloway motioned to pull funding from Noah’s Ark Animal Shelter, but no one seconded.
• Commissioners approved out-of-state travel for Johnson-Spence who will travel to Denver in October to attend the Association for Rural and Small Libraries Conference, in addition to the installation of two inner ducts and the placement of a fiber in one of the ducts along Old Glory Road in Precinct 2 by Nortex Communications.
• Commissioners approved the ratification of Roane’s signature on the Public Officials Liability Coverage Renewal Contract and the request to the state comptroller’s office for unclaimed capital credits in the amount of $49,604.65.
• Commissioners accepted surplus materials from the Texas Department of Transportation.