Galveston County Commissioners on Monday are set to vote on a budget proposal that would earmark $571,688 for the creation and management of a new mental health specialty court.
The money is close to the amount proposed by Wayne Mallia, a former district court judge hired in June to develop a plan for the new court.
The money will come from county reserve funds, according to agenda documents released by the county Thursday evening.
If the money is approved, the next step will be to begin hiring the staff members to work on the court, Mallia said.
“After that, we might start hiring the staff and putting them in place, and then we can start screening applicants and seeing if they’re eligible for a mental health court,” Mallia said.
The court may be operating as soon as February, though an official start date depends on how quickly the hiring can take place, Mallia said.
Mallia said he expected it to be especially challenging for the court to find a licensed mental health social worker.
“They’re in high demand, but there are not that many of them out there,” Mallia said.
The court would give people charged with felonies and diagnosed with mental health disorders opportunity to seek treatment instead of serving jail time.
The court will aim to handle about 30 cases in its first year, Mallia said. People who are under the supervision of the court would be released from the county jail and be required to seek treatment for their mental health issues and be monitored by county-employed supervisors.
“We’re be looking at those offenders who are looking at going to the penitentiary if they don’t get into the mental health court program and successfully complete it,” Mallia said. “We’re looking at the high-risk mental health defendants.”
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry proposed creating the court in June to address the number of people entering the county judicial system with mental health problems.
The court’s funding will have to be renewed every year, Mallia said. The amount asked for this year would be about the same amount needed in future, Mallia said.
Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the budget amendment at their regular meeting today.
It took Dan Strothers, Galveston parking enforcement supervisor, about 20 minutes Thursday afternoon to find three cars parked in driveways and illegally blocking sidewalks.
“It’s a city sidewalk, and people think they own it,” Strothers said.
Last year, Galveston issued 62 citations for vehicles blocking a sidewalk or public pathway, according to city records.
But Strothers, who has been with the city almost five years, sees the infraction every day, he said.
For pedestrians, the chronic issue of vehicles blocking sidewalks when parked in driveways is a safety hazard and one that blocks people with disabilities from easily traveling.
In Galveston, it’s a $75 fine to block public pathways, according to the city.
That pathway could be a constructed sidewalk or the right of way along a grassy area, even if there’s no sidewalk to mark the right of way, Municipal Court Clerk Gladys Lopez said.
For residents, especially people walking with strollers or those in wheelchairs, it can be a problem, said Chase Boeker, president of the San Jacinto Neighborhood Association. The neighborhood falls largely between Broadway, Seawall Boulevard and 23rd Street.
“We have large curbs,” Boeker said.
That makes it difficult for people walking on the sidewalk to get around cars, Boeker said.
Parking enforcers usually find this particular infraction in residential neighborhoods, rather than downtown or along the seawall, Strothers said.
Enforcement officers patrol the island looking for infractions, and when they find one, they’ll print out a ticket from a printer in their car.
There’s no quota to meet, but Strothers doesn’t like to do his job halfway, he said.
Strothers also takes copious pictures of the illegally parked vehicle to provide the court, he said.
“I want to show how far in on the sidewalk they are so there’s no doubt,” Strothers said.
The issue can certainly be a safety hazard, said Jeff Patterson, member of the East End Historic District Association.
“Given the condition of some of the sidewalks in the neighborhood, having some of them blocked by cars does make the walking situation more difficult, and less safe,” Patterson said.
But sometimes, during heavy rains, residents have to move their cars off the street to avoid damage from flood waters, Patterson said.
“Putting one of them on the driveway is the easiest solution,” Patterson said. “However, that does block the sidewalk temporarily.”
Many people probably don’t realize that they can’t block sidewalks with their cars if their private driveway crosses the path, Boeker said.
“You’re not intending to have a code violation,” Boeker said.
But it’s a problem people need to pay attention to because it does cause a safety hazard, Strothers said.
In light of the success of the city’s first dog park, city administrators are planning a second for the eastern part of town, and crews might begin work as soon as May.
The city council on Tuesday will consider expanding its agreement with Houston-based landscape architecture firm TBG Partners to add design work for the proposed east side dog park.
“Due to the heavy use of the Lynn Gripon Park Dog Park, completed in 2017, located on the far west side of the city, it became apparent that there is a need for another dog park further east or centralized within the city of League City,” said Chien Wei, director of parks for the city.
The city’s first dog park opened Nov. 12, 2017, after years of planning and debate. The $150,000 dog park is on a 3-acre site that used to be a water plant and had no immediate other use, city staff said at the time.
This second dog park would be built on land near Hometown Heroes Park, slightly west of Egret Bay Boulevard and south of state Highway 96, records show.
The city council added the project to the 2019 capital improvement plan and, in November 2018, reached an agreement with TBG for about $22,500 to include design work for the dog park in an existing agreement for work at Hometown Heroes Park, officials said.
Tuesday’s agreement, then, if approved also would add more design work on additional amenities that would cost about $4,500, officials said.
Actual construction of the park would cost about $177,000 in addition to the design costs, officials said.