County had stressful year, but has a promising 2008

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

From concerns of county road conditions, to future courthouse renovations, to salary and other budgetary concerns, Jim Wells County officials have faced a stressful year. But through it all, they have put together a unified vision for the county, which stressed positive change and growth for the citizens of Jim Wells County.

The commissioners' court is looking forward to the ongoing courthouse renovation project. Commissioner Ventura Garcia said that this will be a focus for the court going into 2008, along with the seal coating and other road infrastructure projects in the county precincts.

"This year we completed several miles of seal coating, and most of the roads held up well. We came in under budget going into seal coating projects for next year," Garcia said.

He said the key to the county's success this year is the fact that the commissioners are all focused on providing the best services for county residents. The unity displayed in the last year by the court is a testament to their commitment to working together on the commissioner's court towards a positive direction.

County Commissioner Wally Alanis mirrored Garcia's comments, saying the county saw a successful year. In his precinct, Alanis was able to complete nearly $109,000 worth of infrastructure improvements, following the county's infrastructure plan in place. Alanis said he hopes to repeat that accomplishment next year, and perhaps surpass that mark with additional improvements.

"Next year we're going to focus on several road projects, including County Road 360 in Sandia, which we've had an eye on for awhile now," Alanis said. "We're going to go down all the way to the base, working the road from the bottom up."

Alanis said the key has been a close association between County Judge L. Arnoldo Saenz and the commissioners court. Along with continued road maintenance, the courthouse renovation project is also a focal point for the next year.

The Texas Historical Commissioner has expressed great interest in the Jim Wells County Courthouse, due to several structural elements inspired by the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, which makes it a unique gem among historic courthouses across the state.

Alanis said discussions are already underway for grants to fund the restoration project, and he said the court will be working closely with THC officials to see that the county has a good economic plan to suit everyone involved.

2007 was also a big year for the Jim Wells County Sheriff's Department as Sheriff Oscar Lopez secured increased salaries from the commissioners' court for his Correctional officers and deputies. The move will go a long way, Lopez said, towards keeping well trained CO's and Deputies within the department. Prior to the court's decision, the department struggled to keep their officers from leaving to other, higher paying departments in the area.

Lopez also said the department is in the process of paying off the additions at the Jim Wells County Jail, and has made great strides in that area over the last few years. The jail once again passed their state inspection, marking 26 years of exemplary standards at the facility, which is made more noticeable following a year of troubles in neighboring county jails.

Looking into next year, Lopez said he was resolute and the department will continue to protect and serve the community as they have been, utilizing new technology and upgraded equipment.

"We'll be implementing new technology this year that should help us do our job faster and easier," Lopez said.