Kerr County Judge Rob Kelly said the new Public Defenders Office, to be hosted by Kerr County, will have 31 employees, including 21 attorneys and 10 lay workers. It will serve Kerr, Kendall, Gillespie, Medina and Bandera counties.
Those five counties submitted a joint grant application to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, which met last week, where Judge Kelly was allowed to present. He said the local initiative was very well received at the time.
Overall, there were 10 applications submitted for the grant and 5 were accepted. “Of the five accepted, the No. 1-rated grant was ours,” Kelly told his fellow commissioners.
The amount of the grant awarded to the Regional PDO is $2,503,264 for its debuting year.
“We are receiving 49 percent of the total amount of grants they awarded. Very impressive,” Kelly said, adding that this is a historic accomplishment for the Hill Country.
The grant is an 80/20 match, with the five counties paying the 20 percent shared at a prorated amount based on case counts.
“It’s a major game-changer for Kerr County,” Kelly said, pointing out that last year, indigent defense cost Kerr County almost $750,000.
“Everyone knows and understands that criminal defendants have a right to an attorney,” he said. “But who knows who pays for that attorney? The county does.”
With the new office in place, the model they studied shows that “we will actually save $310,000 in the first full year of operation,” Kelly said.
County Decides to Purchase
Two Downtown Properties
The new Hill Country Regional Public Defenders Office will more than likely be housed on the second story portion of a building on a property the county elected officials agreed unanimously to purchase in their Aug. 24 court session, following deliberations in executive session.
The purchase of real estate culminated months of work and subsequent recommendations by the county’s Capital Improvement Planning Committee.
Kerr County commissioners agreed to buy 424 Earl Garrett St. and 550 Earl Garrett St. as a package deal at a cost of $790,000, and approved up to an additional $250,000 more to modify the building to make it handicapped accessible.
They also voted unanimously (5-0) to purchase the property next door at 600 Earl Garrett St. for the price of $460,000, conceding that it, too, will need some modifications before becoming habitable.
424, 550 Earl Garrett St.
The first set of properties county officials decided to buy features a two-story building with an estimated 3,000 square feet on each level, as well as an adjacent vacant lot.
While the lower level of the building is occupied by tenants who will vacate next summer, the top floor is being eyed to accommodate the planned Hill Country Regional Public Defenders Office.
Finding the office space in a building within walking distance of the courthouse in Kerrville was a turn of good fortune for local taxpayers.
Not only will the top floor accommodate the new PDO, but the cost was a bargain.
Commissioners (Pct. 3) Jonathan Letz pointed out that the price works out to about $1.04 per square foot, which is about half the price or more in savings of what it would have cost to build a new structure. “Financially, it’s very prudent to go this route.”
“And the location is ideal,” added Commissioner (Pct. 2) Tom Moser, while Commissioner (Pct. 4) Don Harris added that this move will set the county up to grow 20 years into the future.
Commissioner (Pct. 1) Harley David Belew pointed out that the money tacked on for the remodel is not to make it fancy in any way, but to serve a “utilitarian” purpose, by bringing the building up to ADA compliant status.
“We’re probably more than doubling our footprint downtown in Kerrville a block from the courthouse, which is virtually unheard of to be able to expand like that,” Kelly said, adding that even the financial market makes it prudent to buy the properties now.
The county’s financial advisors from RBC Capital Markets have told them that the financing arrangement they will use to purchase the properties will probably come with a very low interest rate, in the neighborhood of 1.25 percent.
“It’s a confluence of opportunities that have brought us to the point that we can realistically look at doing this at this time,” Kelly said.
Plans for 600 Earl Garrett St.
The second property commissioners all agreed to purchase is also near the courthouse at 600 Earl Garrett St. An old sanctuary building, it is literally next door to the other property.
“It is a good-sized building,” Kelly said, adding that it is 3,676 square feet and is a “big box with a vaulted ceiling.” It will need some work, but county leaders see its potential as the future home to the Kerr County Tax Assessor-Collector’s Office and Elections Office.
Currently located on the first floor of the courthouse, the tax office, headed by Kerr County Tax Assessor-Collector and Elections Superintendent Bob Reeves, will have to move soon because its space will be needed to fulfill a state mandate that counties provide a 12 to 14-person jury room for county courts at law.
The county, forced to find a new home for the tax office, is excited about the prospects of the Earl Garrett St. acquisition, because it holds a lot of potential -- even the possibility of a drive-through service lane to offer county customers more convenience in conducting their business.
The property “makes sense for a lot of different reasons,” Letz said.
Harris underscored that the public should understand that the county has not gone on a buying spree. These purchases were needed to accommodate planned growth. “We’re also looking to sell some things in the future, too,” he added.
“What we’re going for is efficiency,” Belew said.