Commissioners honor abuse prevention workers

By R. Hans Miller | News Editor
Posted 4/14/21

The Waller County Commissioners Court took measures to honor those that work to prevent or help those who are victims of child abuse or sexual assault at their April 7 meeting. Commissioners joined …

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Commissioners honor abuse prevention workers

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The Waller County Commissioners Court took measures to honor those that work to prevent or help those who are victims of child abuse or sexual assault at their April 7 meeting. Commissioners joined members of the Court Appointed Special Advocates, Child Protective Services and other community leaders in a balloon-popping ceremony to promote April as both Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month.

“I always recognize folks and families for all the very important work that they do in Waller County and in the surrounding counties as well,” County Judge Trey Duhon said. “There are a handful of organizations that we always work with that provide services to the community that we as a county are not able to provide.”

Duhon said organizations such as Focusing Families, CASA, Katy Christian Ministries, Child Protective Services and the Waller County Child Welfare Board all contribute to the safety of victims of violence and help them recover from the trauma they endure. Duhon – along with the remainder of the commissioners court – recognized that caseworkers with those agencies work to lift people out of horrific situations that lead to PTSD and similar mental and physical health concerns.

“It rejuvenates your faith in humanity when you see groups like that, that are out there, still doing that,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner Justin Beckendorff, whose precinct covers the southern portion of the county.

Katy Mayor Bill Hastings, Waller County Sheriff Troy Guidry, Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis and Royal ISD Superintendent Rick Kershner were on-hand to celebrate the contributions of the organizations throughout the county that work to assist the victims of violence.

After the declarations made in the commissioners court chamber, attendees went out on the front lawn of the Waller County Courthouse for photos and to pop balloons – a balloon release had originally been scheduled, but was changed due to litter concerns – as a symbol of support for victims advocacy workers.

Before the recess for the outdoor portion, Duhon made one final statement of appreciation for the advocates.

“Thank you for taking that on – for answering the call,” Duhon said. “I can’t express to you how much we appreciate that, because it does take a lot of hours; it takes sweat; it takes, you know, a lot of effort. And, when you look at where the Welfare Board was when we first came on and where it is today, I could not be more pleased and happy.”

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Commissioners Court also heard an update on delinquent taxes, fines and fees from Otilia Gonzales of Purdue, Brandon, Fielder, Collins & Mott, Llp., the county’s collections consultant. Gonzales said the county had a delinquency rate of 5.42% in July of 2020 which the firm has continued to work to bring down. Overall though, she said the county’s situation had been improved despite a year of COVID-19 protocols getting in the way of some collection efforts, though that is lightening as the pandemic continues its slow decline in severity.

“We have the tax dockets again,” Gonzales said. “Those are occurring by Zoom with the new District Judge (Carol) Chaney. We’ve got another docket in early May already set.”

Gonzales said the firm had been able to decrease moneys owed to the county by about $1.6 million since her last report in late August of 2020. The biggest results had been seen in court filings getting finalized she said.

Commissioners asked Gonzalez what the challenges were in collecting and Gonzales said inconsistency from judges in the county on fine and foreclosure cases were part of the problem. Judges have the authority to grant clemency or extension on taxes and fines and often have internal staff perform initial collection efforts rather than turning cases over to her team at PBFCM for collections promptly. She said she did not want to step on judges’ Constitutional authority, but getting her staff to address collection efforts earlier in the process could lead to a higher success rate in collecting on taxes, fines and fees owed to the county.

Court members said they would look into how the judges are making their decisions and encourage them to pass the cases on earlier, though they recognized each judge’s autonomy. However, they noted some tools would help influence judges that might not want to pass cases on.

“If the statistics show by (judges collecting on cases in-house) our collection rate goes down – this is what you’re costing the county, then that might be something that I factor into when it comes to their budget,” Duhon said.

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