Harris County to take legal action to challenge police funding

Harris County will launch a legal challenge to the state’s recent ruling that the county violated Texas law punishing local governments that cut funding for law enforcement.

The County Commissioners Court addressed the issue at a special meeting on Wednesday and, following an executive session closed to the public, voted 3-1 to approve the hiring of law firms Yetter Coleman LLP and Alexander Dubose & Jefferson LLP. The latter includes former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson.

The cost to taxpayers of hiring the companies was not provided.

Last week, state comptroller Glen Hegar published a letter notifying Governor Greg Abbott and County Judge Lina Hidalgo that the county appeared to have cut funding for law enforcement by recovering more than $3 million in working capital from the offices of the eight constables.

Hegar’s decision stems from a complaint filed by Constables Mark Herman (Pct. 4) and Ted Heap (Pct. 5), including a letter from County Budget Management Director Daniel Ramos detailing the amounts of the working capital levied on the eight gendarmes.

Although commissioners approved a budget including working capital and held hearings last March, the following month the county reversed course.

“The underlying case is very simple,” Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) said. The Texan. “In March, the county held budget hearings which included deferral of savings, and then in April, they withdrew those savings accounts.”

“If I walked into your bank account on the 31st of the month and said, ‘Oh look, you’ve got some savings,’ and collected it from you before all your bills were due on the 1styou would think it was unfair when paying your bills.

Because of the cuts, Hegar advised the county that it was violating Senate Bill (SB) 23 and that unless the proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 is revised or approved by voters, “the county cannot adopt an ad valorem tax rate that exceeds the county’s no-new-income tax rate.

Last week, former commissioner and constable Steve Radack sent another letter to the Governor’s Office of Public Safety alleging that the county had cut funding to eight constable offices as well as the offices of the district attorney, fire marshal and sheriff.

Herman said The Texan that he and Heap met with county officials last Friday and again on Monday and worked out an agreement.

“If the county can’t pass a budget, my department stands to lose $7.5 million and I may have to lay off as many as 70 deputies,” Herman said. “The controller gave us the option to resolve the issue locally and we were working on it.”

“It’s no surprise though that we were working on a deal, and they suddenly went from one direction to another,” he added.

After voting to move forward with a legal challenge, Hidalgo posted on social media that “the only ones trying to defund security in our county are the governor and his allies.”

During the public portion of the meeting on Wednesday, April Aguirrethe aunt of 9-year-old Arlene Alvarez, who was shot and killed in Harris County last year, spoke to commissioners and audio read of Hidalgo’s comments on working capital in 2019.

“I would hate to punish departments that saved instead of forcing themselves to spend at the end of the year, so I would basically preserve that and not punish people who were able to save,” Hidalgo said. .

Hidalgo, who along with the four commissioners will retain working capital in the proposed budget, said the comments were “taken out of context”.

In addition to approving a lawsuit against the state, the court of commissioners approved a $25.7 million expenditure to move some inmates from the Harris County Jail at Giles Dalby Correctional Facility in Post, Texas.

The county jail is nearly full with a population of 9,975 to August 30. More than 8,155 defendants awaiting trial are being held on felony or violent misdemeanor charges, with the county’s criminal case backlog still exceeding 135,000 cases.

Texas Civil Rights Corps attorney Elizabeth Rossi, who represents plaintiffs suing the county for felony bail, also addressed the commissioners against moving inmates on Wednesday. She said commissioners should instead pressure the sheriff’s office to stop making “unnecessary low-level arrests” and the district attorney’s office to stop pursuing so many cases. . If law enforcement does not comply, Rossi said their funding should be cut by the county.

Earlier this year, commissioners approved a budget that only included 18% of law enforcement funding requests.

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