Judge Campos talks county’s plan for multi-million dollar project for new office space, courts.
Updated: Jul 8, 2020
A need for more space and additional courtroom security is prompting Erath County officials to consider a multi-million project that is expected to be complete in two to five years.
But first, they have to agree on exactly what the project will entail.
I met with County Judge Alfonso Campos at his office last week and he explained the project and its potential impact on taxpayers.
He said the plan commissioners are focused on involves the construction of two buildings; an $8 million facility located in the vacant lot across from the old Long Hotel that will house the county clerk and tax offices and a second facility near the Erath County Jail that will include the courts.
The court building would include the judicial district courtroom, county court-at-law, county attorney, justice of the peace and judges’ offices as well as a holding cell for female inmates.
“With correct planning, the court building would also have an additional courtroom for the attorney general and visiting judges,” Campos said. “And it would provide secure parking for the judges and a drive- thru entrance with a gate that closes when inmates are brought to court.”
But it comes with a hefty price tag: $12-$15 million.
Constructing two new buildings would also leave the 24,000-square foot Donald R. Jones Justice Center virtually empty, a fact that concerns Campos.
AN ALTERNATE PLAN
Campos wants commissioners to consider a second plan that would involve building only one facility at a lower cost of $10-$12 million.
“It would be half the cost for the county and would reduce the burden on taxpayers,” Campos said.
His plan involves constructing the court building on the vacant lot across from the Long Hotel and moving the county clerk and tax offices into the Donald R. Jones Justice Center.
“I think that would work well,” he said. “There is plenty of space for voting (the current district courtroom) and it would give the offices the extra storage they need for records.”
Commissioners have not voted on the final project yet, but they are already interviewing architects.
“We have not come to a final decision on a lot of this yet, but we would like to name an architect by the end of the month,” Campos said.
Commissioner Dee Stephens serves on the Building Committee overseeing the project and said he supports the current plan that involves constructing both buildings.
“Our immediate goal is to give the tax and county clerk’s offices more room; they need immediate relief,” Stephens said. “We have been working on this project for two years and we don’t anticipate needing any loans for the project. We have plenty of money for this so it will not affect the taxpayers.”
Stephens said the courts building is at least five years down the road and courts that need additional security now will be moved to the Donald R. Justice Center.
Meanwhile, Campos said his immediate goal is to make sure Erath County residents understand the project and the tax increase that will come with it.
“I don’t want the taxpayers to wake up one day and find out we have voted on it and no one knew about it,” Campos said. “I know we are not the only taxing entity in the county, but if we can make a small difference, we should.
“And we should only ask for what we need.”