Corsicana — Editor's note: An update to this story with the headline "County hears more budget requests, additional meetings set" published on this site on Saturuday, July 20. It clairifies remarks made by D.A. Lowell Thompson regarding postponing trials in the county.
Arguing that six prosecutors in the Navarro County District Attorney’s office are too few to accommodate seven courts, D.A. Lowell Thompson asked for another attorney, as well as an additional investigator for his office when he met with the County Commissioners Friday morning in a budget session.
“We have more judges in the county than we do have prosecutors,” Thompson said. “There is no scenario where it’s appropriate to have no one in the office to answer law enforcement’s questions.”
The salary for another lawyer would be about $54,174, and for an investigator about $38,000. However, Thompson said he can cut $61,740 in other costs, such as expert witness pay, that could go towards the salary of the new hires, if approved by the commissioners court.
Because of the shortage of assistant district attorneys, they have canceled vacations and often worked nights or at home to meet the workload, Thompson told the commissioners. He admitted that sometimes trials are postponed because of staffing in his department.
“The courts aren’t slowing down because of us,” he said. “We’re going 100 miles an hour trying more cases than we ever have.”
Asked by Commissioner Jason Grant if the county wasn’t giving too much probation, Thompson said probation actually helps matters by keeping would-be felons on a tight leash. Probation moves cases, jail time drags it out, he told Grant.
He also asked for new computers for his department, and a second official vehicle for the investigator to drive while going out to interview witnesses and other duties.
Like the other department heads in the county, Thompson made a plea for pay raises on behalf of his employees, arguing that he’s lost well-trained attorneys to other positions because of the relatively low pay his office offers.
Commissioner James Olsen was quick to respond: “Whatever we do with salaries is going to be based on our tax base, and not what some other county’s tax base is,” he said. “I think we all agree we want to do what we can, and not what some other county can (afford).”
The Justices of the Peace were represented at the budget meeting Friday by Connie Hickman and Kirby Hill, who asked for raises for their employees, as well as a $75 a month bump in travel allowances, to help alleviate the higher costs of gas and vehicle upkeep. The average budget per JP’s office is $181,431. This year’s budget requests are actually slightly lower than in 2012 because last year the justices replaced their computer system, an expensive allocation that won’t be repeated in the 2013-14 budget.
“All four of our offices come in under budget each year,” Hill told the commissioners.