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State payments for indigent defense continue to dip in Gregg County

By Glenn Evans
Feb. 6, 2017 at 11:51 p.m.

Gregg County Courthouse (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

Gregg County on Monday accepted a $117,000 grant to pay for court-appointed defense attorneys this year, a state contribution the county auditor welcomed while noting it is far less than what is spent on indigent defendants — and less than the state provided a year ago.

The county has budgeted $1.09 million for the state-mandated expense during the fiscal year that will end Aug. 31, County Auditor Laurie Woloszyn said. That was up slightly from $1.088 million in fiscal 2015-16.

She also produced a 2016 Texas Indigent Defense Commission report showing counties statewide carried 87 percent of the $248 million spent on criminal defense under the 15-year-old Texas Fair Defense Act.

In Gregg County, this year's state allotment leaves about 89 percent of the anticipated local costs in county taxpayers' hands. It was down from almost $127,000 from the state during 2016.

The report, and the grant accepted Monday, do not include state-local spending to ensure children in Child Protective Services cases and people under mental health commitments are represented, Woloszyn said.

Per-county allotments are based on a combination of population and indigent-defense caseloads.

"It's nowhere near our expenditures," Woloszyn said. "But it helps."

In other action Monday, the court named Collections Assistant Director Amanda Damuth as department director. Damuth succeeds retiring Collections Director Karen Fleming.

County Judge Bill Stoudt said Damuth was "by far" the most qualified among those responding to a public posting seeking candidates for the job.

He also noted that, under the county's 2-year-old salary schedule, the hiring at $42,500 saves about $10,000 from Fleming's salary at 30-plus years with the county.

Moments later, the court also agreed to replace Damuth's assistant position with a standard collections clerk slot, saving another $10,000 or so. That position will be advertised to build a candidate pool.

"These salaries, in most cases, are working like we tried to do," Stoudt said, referring to a countywide pay schedule restructuring recently put in place.

Also Monday, commissioners put a courthouse roof replacement project out for bid. The job is part of a multiyear renovation of the downtown Longview courthouse that's included all infrastructure.

Maintenance Director Harry McMahan said timing of the roof work will depend on when bids come in and how long a contractor will need to find materials.

"This project has been hanging out there for too long," Stoudt said. "I'm getting tired of seeing water drip (in the hall) outside my office."

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