Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct name for County Court at Law Two Judge Laura Barker.

Some Williamson County Commissioners Court members have expressed concerns about using grants to create and fill county staff positions at recent meetings.

While grant-funded positions are often created when they have been fully funded by outside entities, county departments have looked to the court to continue funding those positions once those grants decrease or expire, County Judge Bill Gravell said.

"It is a governmental handout where they promise to pay 100% for a point, then it gets to a point where they fund it 70% or 50% or 25%, then suddenly everyone walks up to the podium and says the world's [going to] fall and the sky's [going to] fall in if we don't fill that position,” Gravell said.

The update

At meetings June 13 and 27, several county departments requested that the court approve county dollars for grant-funded positions in need of additional funding. Some positions had not received enough grant money to continue or were waiting on the renewal or approval of future grants.

The call for additional funding for grant positions comes as the county’s July 1 budget deadline approaches.

Williamson County had 50 grant-funded positions as of June 14, most commonly funded through state aid and American Rescue Plan Act funding.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Russ Boles said the court has been met with frustration by county departments when the court will not extend previously grant-funded positions through their general budget.

"We never hear, 'I get it, that's what you said could happen, and we understand.' What we get is a lot of anger," Boles said. "It makes us more hesitant to go forward on any of them."

Gravell and Precinct 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey were hesitant to approve county funding for some of the grant-funded positions and denied the creation of a new one, while Precinct 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long and Precinct 1 Commissioner Terry Cook expressed their support.

“I think grants allow us to be bold and experiment with an alternative way of doing something,” Cook said at a June 27 meeting.

The court approved the following for grant-funded positions:
  • Making up 50% of the salary for the program case manager at County Court at Law Two
  • Using its general fund for two Williamson County Veterans Treatment Court and DWI/Drug Court positions when state funding is no longer available
  • Putting $115,808 toward the salary for the county’s adult sexual assault prosecutor
The court denied:
  • A partially grant-funded detective position for the Heart of Texas Auto Theft Task Force
What was approved

At a June 13 meeting, the court approved county funding to make up 50% of the salary for the program case manager position at County Court at Law Two. The court’s Judge Laura Barker said one of the grants funding the position was set to expire Sept. 30 and that she would not know until the fall if another federal grant would be approved.

“Without this position, I will tell you, we would be hurting,” Barker said.

Gravell said he would approve the additional county funding until November but that he expected the position would be terminated if the grant was not received by then.

At a June 27 meeting, the court voted to use its general fund for two Williamson County Veterans Treatment Court and DWI/Drug Court positions when state funding is no longer available.

“I think this is, in my mind, a step towards saying that we value this, and we're willing to put it into the general fund and not rely in the future on grants,” Long said.

Gravell said he was concerned about the precedent the action would have for other grant-funded positions.

The court also voted to provide $115,808 toward the salary of the county’s adult sexual assault prosecutor, as the county's district attorney office anticipated receiving less funding than needed from the Office of the Governor’s Victim’s Against Women Justice and Training Program Grant.

“More women, more victims have stayed with the justice system to see their cases go through, because they've got a person full time really working with them,” Cook said about the position.

What didn’t pass

In a 2-2 vote, the court denied the creation of a new detective position that would allow the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office to participate in the Heart of Texas Auto Theft Task Force. The multicounty task force works to reduce auto theft and burglaries.

The state grant for the position would’ve provided $112,000 for a detective position for the force while requiring the county to provide a 20% salary match and $22,500 for supplies and equipment.

“I have to draw a line on grants. I just do, and chief, with all due respect, this is where I'm drawing the line,” Gravell said to Williamson County Chief Deputy Patrick Erickson. “I can’t support this.”

Moving forward

Amid the debate, the commissioners agreed that the county should take steps to evaluate its current grants.

“I think we need to evaluate every one of the grants that we have in place,” Covey said. “We're putting together metrics criteria that could say this is a good thing to continue and these are not.”