The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

February 10, 2014

Debate continues: Horn, Minter answer Hunt County Judge questions


GREENVILLE — Editor’s note: Hunt County Judge candidates John Horn and Jerry Minter were originally scheduled to debate on Monday, but a scheduling conflict forced Horn to drop out. As a alternative to the debate, considering that both candidates had already participated in a live debate last month, the Herald-Banner sent each candidate the same four questions. Their answers have been reproduced verbatim below.



John Horn

Question 1: A few counties in the state of Texas have formed public defenders offices in lieu of judges assigning attorneys for indigent defenders. The merits of such an office are subject to debate: while supporters point out that having an office potentially saves money and make it easier for commissioners courts to prepare budgets, detractors say that such offices result in a lower quality of legal care. Do you believe that Hunt County should form a public defender’s office?

During my tenure we actively pursued investigating the feasibility of implementing and administering a public defender’s office for the county.  Local judges and bar members listened to a presentation from the Office of Court Administration.  Using this information we were able to determine that the start-up and administrative costs for the program were not feasible.    However, cost analysis cannot be the sole determinative in making this decision.  There are also some concerns that the quality of representation for indigent defendants could decline in light of the number of cases each attorney in the public defender’s office would be required to oversee.  As County Judge, I feel we must continue to analyze the cost benefit for a public defender’s office and when it becomes financially advantageous, without reducing the quality of attorney representation, it would have my full support.

Question 2: When preparing the Hunt County budget, what is your biggest priority in regard to funding?

Maintaining the bottom line while still providing quality services to the citizens of Hunt County has always been my biggest priority while preparing the budget.  This requires actively analyzing limited revenue sources while reducing unnecessary expenses within the operating section of the budget. I am mindful that the citizens of Hunt County already carry heavy burdens imposed by our federal government, and it is of the utmost importance that our local government does not compound these burdens with the imposition of additional taxes.  As an agency of the state, the bulk of Hunt County’s annual budget is allocated to administering the offices that provide judicial, law enforcement, correctional and road and bridge service improvements to the citizens of the county, and rightfully so.  The real challenge in the budgeting process is the lack of any reliable insight into the unavoidable costs associated with unexpected and often costly events such as capital murder trials, natural disasters and unfunded mandates.  I have been able to face this challenge with the help of other elected officials by supporting only fiscally conservative budgets that reduce financial risks without reducing the quality of services.

Question 3: What is the biggest challenge facing Hunt County in the next four years, and what would you do to meet this challenge?

The single, biggest challenge of the County Judge’s office is to maintain the fiscal viability of Hunt County and its’ citizens.  Over the next four years, many citizens and businesses in the county will be faced with the costly burdens imposed by the Healthcare Reform Act, while at the same time; the economy has yet to fully recover.  Both of these issues, if not monitored closely, could affect our unemployment rates, and the amount of disposable income available to our citizens.  Businesses could be forced to once again lay people off, and individuals would again be pushed to delve deep within their financial resources to meet these new mandates and higher healthcare premiums.  To meet these challenges I will continue to pursue new business and development to bring quality jobs and residents to our county while maintaining the lowest possible cost of government operations.

Question 4: Do you believe that Hunt County should implement a unit road system? Why or why not?

I have always believed that Hunt County should strive to implement a unit road system.  This type of system would require a county road engineer or superintendent to be responsible for the planning, construction and maintenance of all county roads.  The unit road system should produce a more uniform allocation of resources across all precincts because the engineer would be able to prioritize road repairs on a needs and priority basis.  A recent survey by the Texas Association of Counties indicates that 59 of the 191 counties surveyed in Texas currently utilize a unit road system.  This number is a fair indicator of the effectiveness of this system.  With a unit road system, the Commissioners would be able to devote more of their time to other programs and services within their precincts to better serve their constituents.  I believe the ultimate success of a unit road system is completely dependent upon full support and consent of every commissioner on the court.





Jerry Minter

Question 1: A few counties in the state of Texas have formed public defenders offices in lieu of judges assigning attorneys for indigent defenders. The merits of such an office are subject to debate: while supporters point out that having an office potentially saves money and make it easier for commissioners courts to prepare budgets, detractors say that such offices result in a lower quality of legal care. Do you believe that Hunt County should form a public defender’s office?

First, cut costs associated with indigent defense cases.  The current rate of $100 per hour with no cap should be reduced to $50 per hour with a $500 cap.  My opponent voted in 2010 and 2013 to maintain the higher fees.  The lower rate will generate an estimated savings of up to one million dollars annually.  Hunt County pays the highest rate in North Texas.  Local lawyers would benefit from the reduction in fees due to the fact that many metroplex lawyers would cease seeking the cases, allowing them an increased case load.  Savings from reducing the fees could be re-allocated to restoring the commissioners road budget that has been reduced significantly over the past few years, Children’s Advocacy Center and Public Safety.  If fees are not reduced, the commissioners court should form a public defender office.

Question 2: When preparing the Hunt County budget, what is your biggest priority in regard to funding?

The biggest priority in funding the budget is Public Safety.  Citizens want to feel safe at all times.  They expect the commissioners court to provide the sheriff’s office with adequate equipment and technology needed to do their job.  One of my platform issues is a grant writer position be added to seek various grants.  Public safety grant funds are available for equipment and technology thereby relieving the taxpayer of that expense.  Close behind is the need to restore the commissioners budget for road and bridge maintenance which has been reduced significantly over the past few years.  Citizens deserve roads that are properly maintained so as not to be unsafe or damaging to their vehicles. These are my biggest priorities because they relate most to the quality of life for citizens. 

Question 3: What is the biggest challenge facing Hunt County in the next four years, and what would you do to meet this challenge?

The biggest challenge facing Hunt County in the near future is four-fold.  First is job growth.  Concentrating our efforts on economic development will bring industry and large businesses to Hunt County thereby creating jobs.  I truly believe job growth will come first, followed secondly by population growth.  We will see rooftops appear in all parts of the county, but primarily in and around Caddo Mills and West along Hwy 380 between Greenville and Floyd.  Thirdly is the need to address traffic.  We must be pro-active in requesting TXDOT funding for our regional transportation needs and not wait, as neighboring counties, until there are too many automobiles and not enough pavement.  Finally, and this will be the greatest challenge, is the need to provide county services to a growing population.  We will need to add staff and space.  That is why one of my platform issues is to form a citizen’s advisory committee to conduct a feasibility study regarding procuring a site for future facilities.

Question 4: Do you believe that Hunt County should implement a unit road system? Why or why not?

I believe there is merit to a unit road system.  Research shows that 79 counties in Texas currently use the unit road system.  Combining equipment and personnel proved to be cost effective.  The average savings to counties comparable to Hunt County was 16% of their total road and bridge funds.  Hunt County road and bridge funds is approximately six million dollars.  Potential savings would be approximately one million dollars.  If elected to the office of Hunt County Judge, I would discuss this issue with each commissioner individually.  The ideal situation would be to hire a road and bridge engineer to be in charge of work crews and equipment, developing and constructing a standardized road system throughout the county, providing engineering services and oversight of county bridge projects. This will allow commissioners to devote more time to administrative duties.  Some counties have opted to enter into an 18-24 month unit road system test program.  Then commissioners vote whether to continue or discontinue the unit road system.