City, county come togetherTwo committees formed

The Permian Basin is experiencing phenomenal growth, and to be better prepared to handle that growth, the Odessa City Council and the Ector County Commissioners’ Court say they plan to meeting much more regularly.

The entities had a joint meeting Tuesday morning, their first in about a year, to talk about working together more in the future, and about issues such as the Ector County Courthouse and a number of interlocal agreements the two have.

“I think that we really need to open up the lines of communication,” Mayor David Turner said at the start of the meeting. “We’re bursting at the seams in the county and in the city.”

Ector County Judge Debi Hays agreed with Turner, and said she believed with all of the growth in the area, I-20 will eventually look like I-35, and they will need to make room for more highways and roads as Midland and Odessa grow to look as close together as Dallas and Fort Worth.

Turner told county commissioners the city considered the Ector County Courthouse a valued part of downtown and wanted to see it stay there, should a new one be built.

At-Large Council Member Peggy Dean said she would like to have small-group discussions and come back to another joint meeting with specifics on how to get a new courthouse built and some potential cost figures.

“Let’s figure out what we can do and what we can contribute,” Dean said. “It’s always been the feeling that the county courthouse is an integral part of downtown.”

Dean said they needed to understand the county’s appetite for a new courthouse, and Hays told her it wasn’t the most important issue right now. She said the county owed it to their citizens to find enough employees to staff the addition to the Ector County Law Enforcement Center, which is scheduled to open around the end of this year.

As far as present needs, Hays said they were told by county residents that additional law enforcement, illegal dumping and damaged roads were the most important issues to them right now. Hays brought up the fact that county residents actually voted for the creation of a county sales tax district to provide additional revenue to address these issues.

“How many times do you actually see people vote for a tax increase?” Hays asked. “How in the world could anyone in their right mind think we need to put a new courthouse at No. 1? I’m just not that selfish.”

Hays said the courthouse was a priority, but that it wasn’t at the top of the list like dealing with damaged roadways or expanding the juvenile detention center.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Eddy Shelton agreed with Hays on the importance of the jail addition, and said they should complete that project and fully staff the building before moving onto another project. 

Precinct 3 Commissioner Dale Childers said they couldn’t make a decision on the courthouse until they looked at next year’s budget and said it wasn’t at the top of the list of needs right now.

Hays did say that they are mandated to have additional county courts at law and district courtrooms, depending on the size of their population, and said Ector County is projected to grow to nearly 500,000 residents by 2030, so more courtrooms could be needed at some point.

The two groups established a committee to look at the courthouse issue more closely, made up of Turner, District 1 Council Member Malcolm Hamilton, District 2 Council Member Dewey Bryant, Hays and Shelton. They scheduled a follow-up meeting for the committee to take place at 10:30 a.m. June 24.

Interlocal agreements between the county and the city were also a topic of discussion. Hays said she had been looking at all of these agreements for the last eight months, which were created in 2001, and said some may not even be needed anymore, like one agreement just for a trailer created in 2001.

“I’m not sure it even has a floor any longer,” Hays said.

Many of these agreements involve sharing of entities like law enforcement and firefighters between the city and the county, and the housing of inmates at the county jail or the housing of juveniles at the Ector County Youth Center.

Turner suggested a committee of county and city officials be created to look through the agreements and see which ones are still needed or updated. Dean suggested each agreement be individual so they can be more easily handled should just one need to be changed or ended.

Another committee was formed, made up of District 3 Council Member Detra White, District 4 Council Member Tom Sprawls, Dean, Hays, Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Simmons and County Attorney Dusty Gallivan. Their first scheduled meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. July 2.

Turner also said he would have City Secretary Norma Grimaldo look at the calendar to set aside time for the county and the city to begin having quarterly joint meetings.