Hill County continues effort to consolidate, improve facilities

Reporter: Ellie Mahan

August 18, 2022

Work is well underway on the Hill County annex on Covington Street in Hillsboro. The building will house some offices that were at the location previously, along with offices relocated from the Franklin Street annex, which has been sold. The Extension Office, currently housed at the location, will be moving to its new building at the Hill County Fairgrounds. The project is part of the county’s overall effort to reduce its footprint and be more efficient. See accompanying story for more information.

In 2009, Hill County started planning a project for building renovations that officials predicted would take 15 years. According to County Judge Justin Lewis, one of the goals was to consolidate county buildings and increase their efficiency so that there would be fewer and more functional, defined spaces.

Judge Lewis said that there are multiple pieces of the puzzle, but when it all fits together, the county will have a smaller footprint, and placing offices with similar functions close to each other will be beneficial.

Recent pieces of this plan were selling the Franklin Street annex, relocating some offices to the Covington Street annex while moving others out of it and moving records and other county documents from the Franklin Street annex and the Covington Street annex into the old jail building, which became the Support Services building.

When seeking out an alternative to the Franklin Street annex, the county identified the Covington Street annex as a building with a solid foundation, free standing walls and a roof that had just been replaced about two years ago. Now, the Covington Street remodeling project has several stages planned, and the second stage is currently underway.

This stage involves moving the AgriLife Extension Office from the Covington annex to its building that is being constructed next to the Exhibits Building, moving Veterans Services from Covington Street to the new Huron annex temporarily until its office in the Covington annex is complete, and moving DPS troopers to their new offices that have already been built in the Covington annex.

In the future, the Covington annex will hold the tax office, elections office, DPS, three constables, information technology, the Hill County Historical Commission, maintenance staff, an auxiliary courtroom, a waiting area and a new facility for the Child Advocacy Center. Lewis said that a local Child Advocacy Center with a forensic interview room will provide more resources for locals to report sexual assault.

The county will also utilize the new Huron annex, located at 5800 FM 933 between Whitney and Blum. The Huron annex, which was a voting site in March, will hold offices for Hill County Commissioner Precinct 1 Andrew Montgomery, Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Doyle “Trey” Jetton, Precinct 1 Constable John Miller, the sheriff’s office, Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens, information technology and the Veterans Service Office (temporarily).

The Huron annex also has space for a tax office in case officials ever wish to open an office on that side of the county and a public meeting room, where voting or educational classes can be held.

Lewis explained that Huron will resemble a sub courthouse for precinct one.
The county is also working with Emergency Services District (ESD) 1 to facilitate an agreement that allows the storage of fire suppression equipment and onsite water storage at the Huron annex. Having as much as 35,000 gallons onsite near Whitney could minimize fire damage in the area and assist with construction and road building needs.

These projects were made possible by a combination of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and unbudgeted reserve money.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was set in place to minimize the economic strain Americans were experiencing in the last phase of the pandemic. It provided $350 billion dollars in emergency funding for state and local governments.

The county’s first purchase with the funding was the warehouse at 505 North Waco Street. The property was purchased in July 2021. The 2,800 square foot building is being used to store emergency equipment, such as cots, blankets, MREs and water.

The construction projects are intended to help county officials be more prepared if another disaster occurs.

Lewis said, “We are putting like offices together, yet separating them and improving our ventilation systems, improving our security positions, improving our sanitation position. It makes it easier for us, so that should the next pandemic hit, we won’t have the same issues we had this last time. A lot of lessons were learned.”

Another portion of the money for these projects originates from unbudgeted reserve funds, which is money that the county has to set aside each year. Lewis said that the county acquired more than necessary in the unbudgeted reserve fund to save up for this capital project. Lewis said, “The state comptroller says that we have to reserve 25%. Our local policy is 35%. We have closer to 50%.”

The ARPA funds along with unbudgeted reserve money helped speed up the capital projects and allowed plans to be made for multiple county buildings. Lewis gave an estimated breakdown of the funds being used for the construction projects throughout the county.

He explained, “About $7.1 million will be ARPA funds. Another roughly $2 million will be unbudgeted reserves. Then there will be an additional $2.5 million in tax notes that we borrowed. We are hoping that we won’t use the entirety of that. We estimate we will need about $1.75 as a contingency.”

Any remaining funds at the end of the construction projects will go back toward the tax note.

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