Palo Pinto County Commissioners Monday approved declaring an emergency transfer of funds to help cover public defense costs for three murder trials.

The county had budgeted $50,000 for court-appointed attorneys' fees and related expenses for trials in which defendants requested a court-appointed attorney and defense. But with three murder trials this fiscal year, the amount escalated to $108,999.

Court-appointed attorneys were engaged to defend two capital murder trials – the most recent  involving Chester Marion Bell IV and an earlier one involving Belinda Davis. In addition, commissioners said they covered defense costs in the first-degree felony murder trial of Brad resident William Ditmore Jr. All defendants were convicted – Bell and Davis of capital murder and Ditmore of first-degree murder and all are currently serving time.

In addition to court-appointed attorneys, the county also covers related expenses, such as expert witnesses, statements of facts and psychological examinations, according to County Auditor Sharon Allen.

Monday's action allows the county to fund these expenses.

In other business, commissioners approved monthly reports from

departments. Allen reported that county revenues through last Thursday were $9.099 million and expenses were $9.914 million. She said she estimates the county will be $800,000 to $900,000 over budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Public Works Director David McDonald reported issuing 11 permits and addressing two complaints in August. He cited that seven of the 11 permits were for new structures. Of 39 new structures in the county this year, McDonald told commissioners 27 came during the past few months, since June.

Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer reported that his department issued 71 civil papers and 30 citations, made 698 calls for service and 71 arrests, drove 55,809 miles and booked 142 inmates. When asked, he said the inmate situation remains the same regarding U.S. Marshal's Service inmates, i.e., he expects none any time soon. He added that Immigrations and Custom Enforcement will no longer send detainees “50 miles from Stemmon's Freeway in Dallas.”

Commissioners also approved purchasing jeans for sheriff's inmate trustees who work on road crews. Mercer said the one-piece stripped jump suits are too expensive and get torn up while inmates work on the roads and when clearing brush.

“If you supply the jeans, I'll supply the tops,” Mercer told commissioners Monday and commissioners agreed.

Commissioners also:

• Discussed and agreed for County Judge Mike Smiddy and Allen to determine the best option regarding liability insurance for county-owned ambulances. After the county announced they would no longer cover collision on vehicles over five years old, some Emergency Medical Services departments in the county have said they want to cover their own liability as well as collision damage.

• Discussed and approved moving forward on a feral hog abatement program, which could provide grant funds from the Texas Department of Agriculture's Feral Hog Abatement Technologies Grant Program.

• Approved an agreement for hardware support and disaster recovery services.

• Approved District Clerk Janie Glover's plan for preservation of records and approved a $5 fee.

• Approved a resolution to the Texas Department of Agriculture confirming the county's annual grant of $5,000 to Meals n Wheels of Palo Pinto County. According to Smiddy, the resolution and commitment by the county enables MOWPPC to apply for other funds available through the Department of Agriculture.

Staff writer Libby Cluett can be reached at (940) 325-4465, ext. 3422, or


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