Worries over an increasing workload on an overworked staff led Hays County’s top criminal attorney to ask for more money in next year’s budget.
Wes Mau, Hays County District Attorney, is concerned that Hays County’s recommended budget for his department might not be enough to cover growth, and could place the office in a position to possibly backlog cases.
Mau said the DA’s office requested a budget of $5.75 million that would include additional staffing in both the criminal and civil divisions. That includes the hiring of more attorneys who could handle an increasing workload.
During a budget workshop Tuesday, Mau said the DA’s office has seen a 15 percent or more increase in caseload per year. He said the civil division, which handles mental health and child protective services (CPS) cases, has seen its caseload exceed 15 percent in recent years.
According to county records, the DA’s office requested a $1.21 million increase in its budgeted amount from fiscal year 2018. That includes a roughly $770,000 increase for staff salaries.
Without additional staff, Mau said he foresees a problem where there could be a backlog in the DA’s office.
However, the county’s recommended budget issued by Judge Bert Cobb called for $5.11 million for the DA’s office, including the hiring of only one additional attorney.
Mau said the larger need extends to the civil division, which has seen a dramatic increase in its caseload, primarily in CPS cases.
Angie Roberts, civil chief in the DA’s office, said the county completed removals in 15 to 20 CPS cases per month starting in October 2017. Roberts said the civil division staff is unable to maintain the removal pace in 2018.
Part of the issue extends to the manpower it takes to go through with child abuse and mental health cases. Roberts said an attorney and a paralegal, a non-attorney who assists with the process, are needed to work with law enforcement and CPS caseworkers.
While Roberts said the department could make it to January without another attorney, she said going beyond that timeframe could be a challenge. Currently, the civil division staff has been told to hold up certain cases and “triage” others, as they can’t take cases at all hours, Roberts said.
Mau said bringing in additional staff could keep the department from cutting corners, which he said has not yet happened in Hays County.
“Our primary concern is that some of these backlogs could affect public safety. If they’re not reviewed in a timely fashion, then we can’t take the appropriate measures to protect the community,” Mau said. “We’ve kept up to this point and we will continue to work as hard as we can.”
Commissioners plan to vote on the proposed budget and finalize it in mid-September.