PORTLAND – For nine months, County Judge David Krebs has been tackling issues in and out of the courthouse as well as dealing with the massive growth coming into the area.
Last Thursday he talked about some of those issues to a packed room at the Northshore Country Club in Portland at the annual State of San Patricio County luncheon.
Krebs said that from the time he was elected to the time he took office, he and Commissioner (Gary) Moore were constantly in Sinton looking things over and seeing what needed to be done.
“And in those six to eight months I came up with about 30 or 40 items that I wanted to take care of in my time as county judge,” he said.
“Accounting was a little antiquated. We were still dealing with things like we were in the 1960s. We need to get into the 21st century. When I mentioned “we”, I’m talking about myself and the commissioners court.
“And I couldn’t do it without their help. We are united and are very interested in moving the county forward.”
Krebs helped in reducing paper waste at the courthouse with the Agenda Quick program with all the commissioners court packets and agenda materials now available online and easily accessed by the court on tablets.
He also noticed that some new employees were getting paid more than others who had been there for year. He instituted an employee salary study and formed a committee to look into the pay gaps to ensure courthouse employees are getting paid for time, education and position correctly.
Another issues he uncovered was overcrowding at courthouse.
“We’ve got people at the courthouse that all of a sudden are in broom closets,” Judge Krebs added. “Literally, we’ve had to clean out broom closets for staff. We have outgrown the courthouse.
“We probably out grew it long before I took over.”
He said that after the salary study, he’ll work on updating the facilities to 21st century standards as well as figuring out how to handle the overcrowding issue.
He also mentioned that during the 2020 budget hearings, about 30 to 40% of requested help for county offices in the courthouse were rejected – mostly due to overcrowding and nowhere to put new employees.
“A lot of the cases the judges are handling right now are almost double what they were two years ago,” Krebs said, referring to judges requesting additional staff.
“That’s due to the growing pains we’re having in the county.
“So we have to be prepared. We have to grow and the only way we can grow is do what we need to do.”
Security has been a big issue in the courthouse as well. Krebs mentioned that while people are waiting to go to court on Mondays and Tuesdays, inmates are marched in handcuffs and chains right through them so they can get to court.
“Maybe we can look at an additional complex so we can get all the security we need in there,” he continued.
He also mentioned that anyone who’s lawfully or unlawfully carrying a firearm can walk anywhere they want in the courthouse without any security stopping them until they enter a courtroom.
Along with more security at entrances and exits, he also said, “You have to train for this. Employees must be trained in shooter situations and have fire drills. We’re working on this.”
As for the courthouse itself, Krebs said the network was hit four times by hackers in December 2018 alone.
“Luckily our IT person has been able to keep track of that,” he said. “None of that is happening from here in the United States. A lot of this is coming from overseas where our law enforcement has no control of founding who did it.”
Another issue was the county jail. Officials are looking for ways to cut costs with new technology such as video interviews with offenders brought into the jail that need mental evaluations. Usually, doctors are brought in from all over and are paid for – including mileage – by tax dollars.
The judge said the same video technology would be used for lawyers and magistrates as well, so offenders get in and out of the overcrowded jail sooner.
The one issue that Krebs has brought up numerous times, including at the luncheon, was abatements.
He mentioned that the county has $16.6 billion of growth assets evaluation of taxes in the county with $7 billion locked up in tax abatements. With extensions on some of those abatements, it brings the total up to $8.7 billion.
“We’re getting top heavy,” the county judge said.
He added that while he and the commissioners understand that those abatements were put into place to bring jobs into the county, they also need to have enough money coming in to be able to run efficiently.
Overall, the talk ended in a positive note, blanketed in hope.
“Well, the county is doing great,” Krebs said with a grin. “We’re going to look after the welfare of this county.
“We’re going to do the best we can with what we have. We have to play the cards we were dealt.
“Until the Legislature leaves us alone and lets us run our business in our county instead of trying to run it out of Austin, we’re going to work at it. We can complain all day long, but we’re going to get through it.
“If you’re in San Pat County, I want to thank you for blessing me to this position. I tell everyone I run into that this is a dream job.
“And I thoroughly enjoy doing this job.”
Paul Gonzales is the editor at the News of San Patricio and can be reached at 361-364-1270 or at mathisnews@mySouTex.com.