Aransas County Commissioners, at their regular meeting Monday, July 13, discussed the plans for the new Aransas County Courthouse with district judges Patrick Flanigan and Janna Whatley.
The two judges met last week with Aransas County Project Manager John Strothman and talked about revisions to the proposed floor plan. Flanigan said the judges’ suggested changes will allow enough room in one place to pick juries, and will move the district clerk’s office to the same floor as the district courtroom.
“We appreciate having the opportunity to provide input,” said Flanigan. “Our biggest concern is that we had enough room to actually pick a jury.
“We anticipate the county will get bigger and everyone will (eventually) need more space.
“With technology, a lot of things will take less space, but we will always need space for people.”
Commissioner Bubba Casterline asked Flanigan if the judges had any security concerns placing the district clerk’s office and district courtroom on the same floor.
Flanigan said no, because there will be separate public and private access.
District Clerk Pam Heard said she didn’t see any security issues with the judges’ suggestions.
Flanigan noted a district court isn’t a revenue producing court, but rather something counties need to provide.
Commissioner Charles Smith noted the rent the county currently pays for the temporary courthouse space is roughly equivalent to the revenue provided by the proposed increase in the I&S (debt) tax rate.
Flanigan acknowledged the county is taking advantage of some disadvantages (Hurricane Harvey).
“Building this (new) courthouse would be very tough without everything the county received after Harvey (insurance settlement, FEMA funds, etc.),” said Flanigan.
Commissioner Jack Chaney said, “Staying where we are in a cramped area, paying someone else rent (versus building a new courthouse) is an easy decision.”
He noted the county is leveraging funds it received (after Harvey destroyed the former courthouse) to “the best of our ability.”
Addressing comments made earlier in the meeting by Andrew Kane (see County sidelines), Chaney said, “I have no time for (people’s silly comments).”
Whatley, addressing the changes the district judges proposed, said, “I’ve gone through four courtroom remodels (in other counties). I have some experience with what works.”
Addressing the cost of the new courthouse, Strothman noted about 45 percent of the cost is funded by insurance proceeds (almost $10 million) and FEMA (almost $3 million).
Smith said the county is taking advantage of historically low interest rates, which may not be available if the county’s portion of the Downtown Anchor Project (courthouse, community building, and public plaza) is delayed until a later date. In the meantime, the county continues to pay rent for a temporary facility.
Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills noted the county acquired the land for a new courthouse prior to Harvey, and was in the beginning stages of planning for a future courthouse when the storm hit.
Referring to the opportunity that has presented itself since the storm, the judge recalled someone telling him, “Judge, I think you over-prayed about this courthouse.”