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Bell County officials call on legislatures to add district court as population continues to grow

Posted at 6:39 PM, Jan 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 19:43:07-05

BELL COUNTY, TX — The conversation of adding district courts is one officials have had for the past few years.

Back in 2019, county officials and state representatives pitched the idea of adding an additional court, but it didn’t go much further.

This year is different. They believe they have a good chance of getting it approved through legislation.

The need for additional courts stem from the growth in population.

“Back in 2007, the population in Bell County was around 260,000 people and we’re going to be bumping close to 400,000 people in this next census,” State Representative Hugh Shine explained.

The increase of people brings more crime to the county.

Justin Kelly, the supervisor of the criminal investigation division and the SWAT team at the Bell County Sheriff’s Office told 25 News that about 25% of their cases are felonies.

It’s nearly a 3% increase from the past few years.

“I myself wouldn’t say that we should be worried about that,” Kelly said. “But I think some people might be surprised by that number.”

The uptick does add fuel to the years-long conversation of adding additional district courts to handle the abundance of these cases.

“[It’s been] over a decade in the time when the last district court was added,” County Judge David Blackburn said. “We’ve had substantial growth in the county which means substantial growth in county court dockets.”

Like anything else in life, the project is going to cost them.

“The bottom line is how much is it going to cost and how much money is it going to cost and where are we going to get the money to be able to do it,” Rep. Shine questioned.

Judge Blackburn explained that if handled correctly, the money shouldn’t be a problem.

“We can manage the timing of when this new court stands up so that it lessens the impact on our budget in one fiscal year,” he said. “Of course there’s impacts on fiscal years as we move forward.”

Both officials said if all goes well and the legislation is passed, they hope to see a newly operating court January 1, 2022.