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Court approves remodeling

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‘Tight budget’ also nears completionBy LPR Staff
Editor/POST-REGISTER

After several months of discussion and negotiation, Caldwell County is finally ready to move forward on a construction project that is hoped to benefit the county’s justice system.
In April, 421st Judicial District Judge Todd Blomerth approached the Caldwell County Commissioners,

asking for a budget appropriation of less than $4,000 to replace an exit door in his courtroom. The doors were necessary, Blomerth said, to reduce the impact of noise from Highway 183 and San Antonio Streets in while court was in session.
The request sparked a series of discussions, meetings with architects and finally, the decision of the Commissioners to engage in a large-scale remodel of the building. Upon its completion, the project should allow for not only noise reduction in Blomerth’s courtroom, but also additional office space, meeting space and a law library.
The project hit several snags during the planning phase, the latest of which occurring when the project bids came in and reflected a cost of several thousand dollars higher than the Commissioners had expected. Working with Blomerth, District Attorney Trey Hicks, members of the Commissioners Court and County Maintenance Supervisor Curtis Weber, representatives of Free Bird Construction, the low bidder, reviewed the bid and revised aspects of the project, ultimately reducing the cost by nearly $7,500.
Upon hearing the final incarnation of the project, Blomerth expressed happiness with the plan, and gratitude to the Court for their cooperation and approval.
“I think that we are working on an addition that the County can be proud of,” he said Monday. “This will not only look good with the existing architecture, but it will increase our security, reduce the noise and help with personnel space.”
Dick Weiland, president of the Caldwell County Bar Association, also thanked the Commissioners, stating noise problems within the Courthouse Annex have been “impeding justice in Caldwell County,” and recognizing the project as a necessary step moving forward.
Work on the remodel will begin in the near future, and is projected to cost the county around $145,900. Precinct 2 Commissioner Charles Bullock voted against moving forward with the project as it was presented Monday, but did not explain his opposition during open session.
In other business, the Commissioners held a brief public hearing regarding the Fiscal Year 2008-2009 budget.
County Judge H.T. Wright explained that much of the increase in this year’s budget could be directly tied to both increased personnel as a result of the Caldwell County Jail Annex, and the increased cost of gasoline and other petroleum products. In fact, Wright noted, the fuel budget increased $115,000 for the Unit Road System and Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department alone. He also mentioned a $115,000 increase for utilities, and credited a nearly $250,000 jump in the budget to the cost of living pay increase being offered to county employees.
Wright asked to make clear, though, that despite the increases in the budget and the slight tax increase those changes will create, the County is running on a “tight budget.”
“We are spending every penny we’ve got the best way we know how,” he said. “And we’re trying to find the money for other things we need.”
No public input was offered during this, the first of two public hearings before the Commissioners approve the budget next month. The next public hearing will be held during the Court’s regular meeting on Sept. 8, 2008.
In brief news:
The Commissioners heard requests from two property owners for variances allowing them to sell portions of their property. Both variances were approved.
They heard a request from the Southwest Museum of Clocks and Watches to allow free-of-charge public tours of the Courthouse clocktower. Each Commissioner, along with Wright, expressed concern about the liability the County might face if a tour participant was injured. Although a waiver of liability would be signed by each guest, District Attorney Trey Hicks suggested such a waiver may not “have any teeth.” The Court will discuss the request further at a later time.
The Court voted to leave the outdoor burning ban off for at least another week. However, Emergency Management Coordinator Jimmy Parker expressed a warning to both court members and county residents that a layer of dry grass still exists under the green grass brought forth by recent rains. He reported three grass fires in the McMahan area over the weekend, at least one of which was sparked by an “out of control controlled burn.”
Citizens wishing to burn brush or trash, or running machinery in high grasses are urged to use extreme caution, and to never leave burn piles unattended. Parker also asked residents to “watch the winds,” and to avoid burning on overly breezy days.
They approved a grant application for continued participation in the Chisholm Trail Special Crimes Unit.
The County paid bills in the amount of $74,931.59, which includes $19,180.03 for indigent legal defense.
The Caldwell County Commissioners meet on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month in Room 100 of the Caldwell County Courthouse. Meetings begin at 9 a.m. and are open to the public.

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