Court pursues property for county annex in Precinct 1

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

November 17, 2021

The Hill County Commissioners Court moved forward with a project to open an annex on the west side of the county and heard a presentation on a settlement related to the nationwide opioid crisis in a meeting held Tuesday, November 9.

It has been a goal of the court to open an annex that could better serve the west side of the county for some time, and a property purchase has been discussed in executive session in recent meetings.

The court voted in open session last week to move forward with a purchase agreement for a 27,000 square-foot building on 7.25 acres outside the community of Huron at a cost of approximately $800,000.

The tentative agreement, which is pending the usual pre-purchase property surveys, would also transfer shelving, generators and other equipment on the site to the county.

The annex would include space for Precinct 1’s constable, justice of the peace and commissioner, along with sheriff’s deputies, Department of Public Safety personnel and game wardens. County Judge Justin Lewis said that there is also a possibility that Emergency Services District (ESD) 1 may lease space in the building for its office, and the location could also work as a polling place in the area during elections.

The court proposed working within the budget and borrowing as little funding as possible for the project, with a likely breakdown having the county covering three-fourths of the cost and the Precinct 1 budget picking up one-fourth of the cost.

Lewis said that he believes the move is a big step forward for Hill County and is in a central location to serve the west side of the county.

The court also heard a presentation from Stephanie Eberhardt of the Texas Office of the Attorney General regarding a settlement that could provide funds to Hill County.

Eberhardt pointed out that opioid overdose deaths rose by close to 30 percent last year, underscoring the need for funds to help with opioid abatement and related expenditures in communities.

Texas and other states have reached final agreements to resolve legal claims against four companies related to the opioid crisis. One agreement is with opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson. The other involves major pharmaceutical distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.

The two agreements provide for $26 billion in payments over 18 years, and Texas’ combined share of that money is almost $1.5 billion, including $1.17 billion from the distributors and $268 million from Johnson & Johnson.

Eberhardt explained that the more Texas cities and counties that choose to sign on and participate, the more money all entities in the state will receive in the settlement.

The funding must be used to support any of a wide variety of strategies to fight the opioid crisis and will be provided in two forms. The first will be a direct payment to the county, and the second will allow all counties to apply for grant funds through the state to be used for opioid abatement.

In addition to the financial aspect, the distributors will be subject to more oversight and accountability under the settlement. They will be required to have an independent monitor to prevent deliveries of opioids to pharmacies where misuse occur. They will also be required to establish and fund an independent clearinghouse to track opioid distribution nationwide and flag suspicious orders.

Johnson & Johnson will be prohibited from selling or promoting opioids under the agreement.

Lewis pointed out that the opioid crisis has a financial impact on multiple areas of the county, including courts and law enforcement. He suggested that the court consider action on joining the settlement at its next regular meeting.

The court also heard from County Treasurer Rhonda Burkhart and representatives from Tyler Technologies regarding time keeping software. This year’s information technology budget included $24,000 in funding for the software, which would drastically reduce time spent on payroll for the treasurer’s office and auditor’s office.

Burkhart said that the move would streamline the time capture process for all departments and reduce opportunities for human error. It will also provide benefits to employees, including allowing them to clock in and out from a computer or smartphone and giving them the ability to keep up with their time throughout the year.

The cost was estimated at $23,393 when the system goes live, with a recurring annual cost of $10,913. Commissioners approved the proposal, and the software is expected to go live around July of next year.

The court also approved an amendment to an agreement between the sheriff’s office and Global Tel Link (GTL) for inmate telephone services. The amendment makes changes as required by the Federal Communications Commission and will also allow GTL to scan inmate mail for the sheriff’s office.

Under the agreement, GTL will scan each piece of mail, which can then be reviewed by jail staff and electronically delivered to the inmate. Sheriff Rodney Watson said that this process could prevent contraband from making its way into the jail through the mail and reduce the time spent by corrections officers reviewing mail.

The sheriff said that there will be minimal financial impact to the sheriff’s office for the change.

Commissioners also approved an agreement with Tyler Technologies to update court costs and fees for the county to be in compliance with recent action taken by the Texas Legislature at a cost of $2,600.

The court was expected to meet in a special session Friday, November 12, to canvass the results of the November 2, constitutional amendment election. The next regular meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, November 23.

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