County prepares annex to serve west side

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

January 19, 2022

The Hill County Commissioners Court approved utility applications for the new annex property on the west side of the county and discussed changes to the county’s feral hog bounty program at a meeting held Tuesday, January 11.

In November, the court moved forward with the purchase of two buildings on 7.25 acres off Farm Road 933 in Huron for $800,000. The cost of finishing out offices and remodeling the buildings to serve the county is estimated to cost another $250,000.

The property includes a 17,000 square-foot building and a 9,000 square-foot building with a concrete parking area large enough to serve the public.

County Judge Justin Lewis said that the property was about as centrally located as possible in Precinct 1 while remaining accessible to the public.

The building will provide office space for Hill County Sheriff’s Office deputies, game wardens and Department of Public Safety troopers.

There will also be offices for Precinct 1’s justice of the peace and constable and a large public meeting room/courtroom.

The county also plans to move the Precinct 1 commissioner’s barn and yard to the new location.

Beginning with February’s early voting period for the March primaries, the county will also use the site as an early voting location. Lewis said that remodeling work will not be completed by that date, but the facility will be safe and accessible for voting.

Another future use could be the placement of fire equipment, such as water tankers, at the property for quick access to the west side of the county.

If the county’s tax office chose to offer services at the new location, there would also be space available for that purpose.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the court approved allowing Lewis to apply for electricity, water and trash service at the new property and approved the proposed layout.

The goal is to have most offices set up in the new facility no later than early summer.

Lewis also presented an update on the county’s feral hog bounty program. The program has been successful in the past but participation has declined due to loss of grant funding and the county reducing the bounty payments from $7.50 per tail to $5 per tail.

In an effort to increase participation, the county plans to match the bounty paid by Bosque County’s program and begin paying $10 per tail.

Hunters who would like to participate must attend an educational program offered by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service to be eligible to collect the bounty.

Extension Agent Zach Davis, who heads up the program, will collect tails once a month at the Hill County Fairgrounds, with the first drop-off date planned for Friday, March 18. Previously, there were multiple drop-off sites around the county that put a bookkeeping burden on locations accepting the tails. The change will streamline the process and create a set day for them to be submitted.

Lewis said that the program costs $10,000 to $15,000 a year, with grant funds from the Texas Department of Agriculture sometimes available to assist with the cost. Before the county implemented the abatement program several years ago, a federal trapper was paid $26,000 per year.

Lewis said that having Hill County hunters address the issue has been more productive. The trapper was taking around 300 hogs a year, and in 2017, which was the bounty program’s most successful year, there were 2,047 tails submitted.

According to the Extension Service, feral hogs cause an estimated $52 million in damages to Texas agricultural efforts each year. They also damage landscapes and lead to crashes on area roadways.

In another agenda item, the court appointed members to the Emergency Services District (ESD) 1 and 2 boards of commissioners. Charles Bryant and Greg Brown were reappointed to the ESD 1 board. Jimmy Lehmann and Kevin Bragg were reappointed to the ESD 2 board, and Alan Nisbet was appointed as a new member to that board.

Commissioners also approved a grant application for the Hill County Juvenile Probation Department. The grant funds the department’s position for a juvenile resource officer/case manager for the Truancy Prevention Program.

Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Tina Lincoln told the court that the department has operated the truancy program for 24 years with the main objective of reducing truancy and dropouts.

If received, the grant will provide $57,052.34 to fund the case manager’s salary and a portion of funding for supplies and travel.

Lincoln said that the program served 381 students in the county last year, which was a significant increase from prior years. She explained that the case manager contacts a family when a student has been out of school for three days with unexcused absences. The program has a 91-percent success rate, meaning that usually after contact is made the department is not called about the student again.

Only 32 cases advanced to truancy court last year, and Lincoln emphasized that even in these cases, the intention is not to punish but to assist the family and student with resources like counseling services.

Two other agenda items were also approved for the Juvenile Probation Department. The court approved residential, non-residential and interagency agreements between the department and numerous facilities. Lincoln explained that it has been a challenge finding detention beds for juvenile offenders, and the various agreements ensure that the department has the most resources available.

Two of the department’s vehicles that have reached the end of their useful service life were also declared salvage/surplus material. A 2005 Ford Taurus and a 2001 Ford Crown Victoria will be sold via online auction.

A grant application was also approved for the Hill County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office has applied for grant funding through the Office of the Governor for the continuation of a project to update in-car video and body-worn camera systems. If received, the grant will allow the department to install in-car cameras in its new Chevy Tahoes and issue body-worn cameras to additional personnel.

Another agenda item approved for the sheriff’s office will allow the department to accept a vehicle trade-in offer from American National Leasing. The program allows the department to purchase new patrol vehicles and trade in older vehicles for credit towards the existing payment. The company’s bidding process resulted in a $16,000 bid for each of two 2017 Chevy Tahoes from Caldwell Chevrolet. The $32,000 in proceeds will be applied toward the cost of two 2022 Chevy Tahoes previously approved in the budget.

In other business, Lewis reported that the construction projects are wrapping up at the courthouse, preparations are underway for the county fair and the county has received a lot of interest in the Covington Street annex construction project, with bids due February 24.

Commissioners reported that they have been working on roads and installing culverts, and Precinct 2 Commissioner Larry Crumpton said that over Christmas break, there were 200 to 300 gallons of diesel stolen out of the precinct’s equipment that was parked off of a county road. The fuel caps were also taken and had to be replaced. “It’s a shame that we put equipment out there to fix the roads and people steal what we’ve got out there,” Crumpton said.

Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Hemrick said that with the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, the new cameras being installed at the fairgrounds will allow more people to view the fair remotely.

The court also heard a presentation from Dailey & Wells of San Antonio about upgrades to the county’s communications systems for first responders. More information is expected to be discussed at future meetings.

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