By JESSIE HORTON
ERATH COUNTY (May 28, 2015) — In March, Erath County Commissioners approved a measure that simply amended the 2014-2015 budget, but the impact was so much more. The change cost Erath County taxpayers a million dollars.
Not that it was unexpected. In fact, county budget planners expected the cost to be higher, but the total was $1 million and they had planned. And the motion in March just moved money from the county reserves to an account that allowed county officials to pay those invoices.
In February, an Erath County jury found Eddie Ray Routh guilty of the capital murders of Chad Littlefield and the American Sniper Chris Kyle. The bill for that trial, including the cost of extra security and other extreme measures needed to protect both families, Routh, the jurors and all involved in the trial, came out to approximately $1 million. A bill Erath County taxpayers footed.
But, while they had planned for it, Erath County officials, including County Judge Tab Thompson and the commissioners, went to work looking for ways to help cover that cost. According to county officials, they had planned for the cost, but were also researching assistance.
“It was a terrible tragedy and an unfortunate situation that I feel like our county handle well,” Thompson said. “We planned for it and managed our budget in a way that allowed us to handle that cost. We (county officials) went to work with Rep. Sheffield’s office and Senator Estes’ office to try and find means to help us offset those costs to local taxpayers. Then a few nights ago I got a call from Craig (Estes) letting me know they had everything in place, but you never know how all that will shake out until it gets voted on and is made official.”
Brent Graves, who is running for State Representative (HD59), said he congratulates the legal community in Erath County for the “endless hours they put in to make Erath County a shining star to the world.”
And he wasn’t the only local politician talking about the situation Erath County taxpayers were facing.
“The tragic loss of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield has been felt nationwide, and Erath County should not be asked to bear the financial burden of this trial alone,” State Representative J.D. Sheffield (HD59) said in a release earlier this week.
And now, with the passage of House Bill 2 this week, Erath County won’t be the only ones footing that bill. The Texas Legislature gave final approval to the supplemental appropriations bill on Tuesday, May 26, in Austin.
“The approval of HB2 and the amendment is a wonderful thing for Erath County and our taxpayers,” Thompson said. “I know everyone in Erath County appreciates the efforts of local state politicians to help us. The passage of HB2 and its amendments will allow us to return money to the county’s reserves and helps take some of that burden off our taxpayers alone.”
Sheffield said that as a member of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, he worked with budget conferees to have the appropriation included in the bill. The state will now reimburse Erath County $500,000.
Graves said he wanted citizens to know that HB2 left the Appropriations Committee and the House of Representatives with “absolutely no representation for Erath County or the taxpayers.” He said it wasn’t until Senator Craig Estes filed an amendment to reimburse the county that something was done.
Whatever the case, the amendment to grant financial aid to Erath County was added to the bill and approved. The funds could be seen by county officials as soon as next month, but that wasn’t a sure timeframe, officials said. Thompson said the money was moved from the county’s reserves (which act like a person’s savings account) and would be able to be able to be returned as the funds from the state must be used for covering the cost of the trial itself. The money that is returned to the reserves can then be used for whatever the county commissioners deem fit.
“Every taxpayer in Erath County owes a huge thank you to Senator Craig Estes for placing an amendment in House Bill 2 (HB2) that would reimburse Erath County for this tragic circumstance,” said Graves. “Senator Estes and his staff worked tirelessly to get this amendment placed in the supplemental budget bill.”
Sheffield and Graves thanked the Appropriations Committee and others involved in getting the amendment placed in HB2 for Erath County taxpayers.
“I commend the hard work of Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson and House Appropriations Chair John Otto for their support in obtaining these funds for our district,” said Sheffield. “I also want to thank Senator Craig Estes and my fellow members for supporting this worthy cause.”
Thompson and Erath County Commissioners also expressed their gratitude to the Appropriations Committee and the House for all their work to help in the matter.
“We’re so grateful for the work done by these guys (Estes and Sheffield) and others to help us with these costs,” Thompson concluded. “That money will be returned to the county reserves and the commissioners will use it in the best possible way to benefit the taxpayers of this county.”