Commissioners hold special session as county budget work continues

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

September 8, 2021

The Hill County Commissioners Court met in a special session Tuesday, August 31, to consider several agenda items and continue working on the county budget.

The court voted to solicit proposals for maintenance of the county’s Lake Whitney tourism website, which is funded by hotel occupancy taxes in the county’s tourism budget.

Commissioners voted to post notice of a proposed road change to a small portion of HCR 4411 that Commissioner Martin Lake explained is an area that is more of a ditch than a road. The court voted to post notice of the county’s intent to remove the area from its maintenance map. A required public hearing will be held Tuesday, September 28, during the court’s regular meeting.

Commissioners also approved agenda items related to recent health insurance decisions made by the court, including various applications and agreements with Aetna, Guardian and AmFirst.

The district judge’s administrative order setting the salaries of the district and county court reporters and the county auditor and staff was observed and recorded.

Other action included approval of usual agreements with the Heart of Texas Council of Governments for operation of the county’s 9-1-1 service, approval of the 2022 county holiday schedule and approval of the court’s meeting schedule, which will continue to be on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at 8:30 a.m.

The court convened in executive session to discuss real property and personnel matters ahead of the budget workshop.

After returning to open session, no action was taken in regards to the property discussions, but the court took a vote on whether to reinstate Precinct 2 Constable Justin Girsh’s salary and other items in his budget to their full amounts.

In the initial proposed budget, the constable’s salary was approximately half the salary of other constables, with other items, such as fuel and supplies, zeroed out.

Hill County Judge Justin Lewis explained during budget hearings that the decision had been made after a series of private meetings with Girsh had failed to produce results.

At last week’s meeting, commissioners decided to restore Girsh’s salary and other items in the budget to the full amounts with caveats.

“It is no secret that we have an issue with the performance of constable Precinct 2, and we have been very public about that,” Lewis said. “We do not do that to single out anybody, but in the constable position, we have invested a lot of money and time to make those positions of faith and trust in this county when they may not have been in the past.”

Lewis said that because of conversations that had happened in the previous couple of weeks and because the constable’s job performance had picked up, he was willing to make a motion to restore his salary to the full amount. But he added that if the constable fails to do his constitutional duties and serve papers, the court would immediately move to remove accouterments of his office, including his vehicle. He said that he would also ask courts of higher record to hold the constable in contempt if he fails to serve papers.

In making the motion to restore the constable’s salary, Lewis said he was willing to give Girsh another chance. “We do this because I believe it’s worth taking a chance on the young man,” Lewis said. “I believe he’s shown the last couple of months he can right this ship. We will continue to look at what’s going on and continue to hold people accountable to the taxpayer for their funds.”

The court voted 3-1 to reinstate the salary, with Commissioner Martin Lake opposed. Commissioner Larry Crumpton, who was recently diagnosed with COVID-19, was not in attendance to vote.

Commissioners reviewed proposed adjustments to other specific areas in the budget as the annual process of fine-tuning the document prior to its adoption continues.

The court was expected to hold another workshop Tuesday, September 7, prior to adoption of the finished budget.

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