The District Attorney’s Office has a current budget of $31,266,628, of which $23,199,953 is from the General Fund, $6,914,223 from grants, and $1,012,452 from the asset forfeiture account (though somehow only $411,286 of this is actually allocated to the DA, with the other $601,166 “reserved” by the upper administration for some mysterious purpose).

In our recent interview with District Attorney Bill Hicks, he told us the County informed him this past Wednesday morning at the “Quarterly Meeting with Elected Official and Department Heads” that the budget of his office and other County departments will be slashed 2-3%. The meeting was led by Melissa Carrillo, Executive Director of Operations, who stood in for Betsy Keller.

The judicial branch has been a core function of County government since the establishment of El Paso County in 1850 unlike, say, “guaranteed income” for the poor, which the Commissioners Court invented this past December.

The budget cut comes at a time when Mr. Hicks is working tirelessly to re-staff his office in the wake of the chaos caused by his predecessor Yvonne Rosales, who made the news repeatedly for her mismanagement of the District Attorney’s Office and her firing of dozens of attorneys.

During his less than 15 months in office, Mr. Hicks has managed to increase the number of attorneys from 63 to 73, with a goal of surpassing 85 in the coming months. There are presently 124 support staff, with four positions left to fill.

Improving the capacity of our courts to prosecute criminals is critically important, especially since felonies in El Paso, such as theft and burglary, are on the rise.

Our community cannot afford to have an understaffed District Attorney’s Office. According to Hicks:

“The criminal justice system in general is the backbone of our society. If the criminal justice system breaks down, then we’re not holding criminals accountable, victims aren’t having their cases serviced. You call the police, the police investigate, they arrest, and then nothing. So lawlessness is right around the corner, and if you have lawlessness you have chaos, and with chaos you have no society.”

So why is the County reducing funding for the District Attorney’s Office by up to $696,000?

Meanwhile, the County Commissioners Court just voted themselves raises costing the taxpayers an additional $95,615 per year.

Moreover, they are poised to approve the issuance of $500 million in bonds, including $150 million in certificates of obligation. If you examine their Draft Project List of potential projects for their FY2024 Multiyear Capital Campaign, you will find $72,660,000 for Ascarate Park Improvements, including a fishing lagoon, splashpad, arboretum, enhanced pool/waterpark, and amphitheater.

You will also find $6,573,509 in improvements for an asphalt parking lot at Ascarate Park, $4,752,000 for a 3-mile walking trail around Ascarate Park, $4,800,000 for a 2.4-mile walking trail from Gallegos Park to the River Park Walking Trail, $3,600,000 for a 2-mile walking trail from Sparks Park to Mission Ridge Elementary, $1,200,000 to upgrade the lighting at Sportspark Field to LED, $8,700,648 for a senior nutritional meal preparation kitchen, $3,025,938 for a jail annex surveillance system upgrade, $4,201,094 for an on-call records cloud service, and $12,004,800 for the design and renovation of the 4th floor of the County MDR Building on E. Overland Ave.

But the Office of the District Attorney must axe up to $696,000 from its budget!

The voters of El Paso County will not forgive this fiscal insanity, nor should they.