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updated 9:48 AM, Oct 19, 2021 America/Chicago

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San Jacinto County Commissioners seek to balance out sheriff’s budget and policy

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CountySealSJ 250By Emily Kubisch-Sabrsula 
SJNT staff writer

COLDSPRING — Settling into the hot August temperatures, tensions inside the courtroom matched the temperatures outside when proposed policy changes at the hands of the San Jacinto Sheriff’s Office were addressed head-on by local business members.

Wrecker redistribution 

Prior to the agenda item, during public comment, several old-guard wreckers from the county, including GW Wreckers and East Texas Towing, spoke on behalf of historical practices, citing a 2008 policy in which the wreckers and previous Sheriff’s Office came together to get approved by the court, in which wreckers purchased permit rotation numbers that enabled them to buy into a rotation that the Sheriff’s Office used to distribute business between the entities.

Chief Tim Keen took the microphone, addressing the proposed changes that seek to remove the buy-in system altogether, citing that Sheriff Greg Capers doesn’t want to continue with the current system. 

The Sheriff’s Office was looking to start the system from scratch, noting that new businesses like Will Hall, also present at the meeting, aren’t able to compete with existing wreckers. 

GW Wrecker owner Becky Dupree pressed back, noting that businesses with the permits invested money in them years ago as a means of income security, and having the system cleared without compensation means their lifetime investments were worthless, a narrative Judge Fritz Faulkner appeared sympathetic toward.

A draft of the new wrecker policy was presented to the court, but not before being delivered to county wreckers, who claim they were asked to sign and return the proposed policy to the Sheriff’s Office. In the letter, it cites a portion of the 2008 policy in which the acting sheriff can add wreckers to the rotation as needed, something that has not been historically practiced and therefor was not widely known. 

This stipulation does not exactly mirror the policy written by the court in 2008. Reasons for these discrepancies as cited by Keen include the sheriff’s version being more detailed for the department’s own records. 

Faulkner still raised concerns, asking if they were starting new policy without the approval of the court.

Currently only five permit rotation numbers exist. Historically, East Texas Towing covered the south half of the county with three permits, two from previous mergers, and GW Wrecking having the other two covering the North half. 

Will Hall Wrecking was added to the rotation recently by Capers, who did away with the north/south agreement and helped lead to the push in policy change from his office. Both Keen and Capers have been in their positions less than eight years and were not active when the 2008 policy was implemented. 

Wanting to dive deeper into the legalities involved, Faulkner moved for the court to reconvene during a later meeting with more information in order to create a new policy that serves all parties involved. A workshop for the matter is pending.

County updates

  • With GLO grants recently getting doubled and DETCOG overseeing roughly $140 million in flood mitigation grants, San Jacinto County can expect to be assigned almost $22 million for projects around the county.
  • With the November 2021 constitutional elections already on the minds of county officials, residents can expect the minimum required voting times across all polling locations of Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. 

The only exception would be, in the case of a Shepherd City election, then pollls would operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays at the main voting location. Early voting will also only be available at the Coldspring Election Office, citing cost concerns.

Currently, the county is seeking to create established voting locations so residents can be sure where to go, and to also help curb the historically low voter turnout during off-year elections. 

San Jacinto County offers county-wide polling locations, meaning all eligible voting county residents, with proper identification, can vote at any location. For a list of accepted IDs, visit www.co.san-jacinto.tx.us/page/sanjacinto.elections

  • Following a closed session, it was revealed that the county jail is running a negative budget through a series of compensation payouts to formers employees, while at the same time facing a hiring and employee retention crisis and being monitored by the Texas Jail Commission for chronic understaffing.

After frustrated exchanges between court members over concerns for the lack of balanced budget from the Sheriff’s Office and vows to prevent similar overdrafts into the general fund, the court approved the motion to pay the budget amendment in order to get the jail through the end of the fiscal year. 

The next Commissioner’s court meet will meet Aug. 11 at 9 a.m. at the Emergency Shelter in Coldspring, across from the courthouse. Public comment can be made at the beginning of the meeting.

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