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Commissioners extend disaster declaration

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Hays County Commissioners Court voted to extend the Local Disaster Declaration for COVID-19 until September.

The original order set on March 16 expired on July 14. The declaration opens various funding avenues.

The commissioners did not declare a burn ban but indicated it will likely be declared at next Tuesday’s meeting. 

“We don’t have a burn ban, but that doesn’t mean it's going to be safe to burn. It's likely going to be enacted next Tuesday,” Commissioner Lon Shell said. “If you have an opportunity to avoid burning, do so.”

In other business, the commissioners approved $1,300 of additional funding for the Hays County Criminal District Attorney’s Office for their new Cite and Divert Program. 

The program, announced last week, will allow people who qualify the chance to meet with a prosecutor from the District Attorney’s Office rather than appearing before a magistrate. The prosecutor may determine that a course of diversion is appropriate and after a person satisfies the requirements determined by the prosecutor, the program ends and their record remains clear of the offense. 

Shell, who chairs the county's Criminal Justice Coordinating Commission, praised the program saying it will save money, make the court system more efficient and save some people from getting sick by unnecessarily entering the jail, and in many cases delivering the same outcome.  

“Anyone that we can find to bypass the jail, saves an expense to the taxpayer and inefficiencies,” Shell said. “With many of these types of cases, oftentimes the end result of everything is going to be exactly what the District Attorney is going to do with this program, especially with first offenders. If we know ultimately this is what's going to happen, why don’t we just do it from the beginning.”

Shell also indicated the county is looking into a text reminder service for court dates that will complement the new program to reduce failure to appear rates.

The budget amendments will decrease County wide contingencies by $1,300, increase District Attorney Appointed Attorney Expense by $900, increase District Attorney Staff Salaries by $330, and increase District Attorney Fringe Benefits by $70.

Shell said, “It’s still providing public safety but making our system as efficient as possible, and limiting interactions in the jail.”

The commissioners are seeking to limit interactions in the jail after the recent COVID-19 outbreak in the facility, now with 89 inmates tested positive and 20 of them being housed at jails in other counties. 

The commissioners received Sheriff Gary Cutler’s presentation about a new app called the Sheriff's Mobile App, TheSheriffapp.com, with support. The company builds custom apps for Sheriff Departments that include Most Wanted Subjects, public emergency notifications, jail information, submitting a tip, sex offender and inmate searches.

The commissioners voted to approve three grant applications to the Burdine Johnson Foundation, Summerlee Foundation and Austin Community Foundation for the Old Hays County Jail Restoration. 

The Hays County Historical Commission began the restoration efforts of the Old Hays County Jail in mid-2009 and is now working on the completion of the interior restoration. The interior of the Jail will be restored to include a museum with various exhibits. 

The requests totaled $200,000 to fund the structural interior components, the South Gallery Exhibits and the North Gallery Exhibits. 

They also approved a resolution supporting the development of legislation amending the State of Texas Transportation Code to achieve the goals of establishing scenic roadways in Hays County. 

The allows Hays County to determine which roadways within its boundaries would receive the designation and established a Hays County Scenic Roadways Commission to receive input from private property owners, county residents, businesses and others to create a process by which roadways would receive a scenic roadway designation. 

San Marcos Record

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