The Department of State Health Services has spent more than $2 million on bond interest for a psychiatric hospital that it doesn't own and that was championed by Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams.Ball further observed that: "On its face, the state's contract with Montgomery County seems to prohibit any payments on the facility. 'Department funds must not be used to purchase buildings or real property,' the contract states. 'Any costs related to the initial acquisition of buildings or real property are not allowable.'"However, "State Health Services, however, says interest payments are acceptable because they are considered an ongoing expense of the facility." But think about it: If you take out a mortgage to build your house, isn't the interest part of the cost of construction? The same is true for this project.
But that's not all the state is paying for, said Montgomery County Commissioner Ed Chance, who spearheaded the effort to build the Conroe facility. If its allocations remain the same, State Health Services will eventually pay off the entire $32 million Montgomery County borrowed to finance the hospital, he said.
"If they hadn't agreed to the funding behind it, we wouldn't have built it," Chance said.
The state maintains that it's not covering the total cost of the hospital's construction, just the interest. State Health Services pays the county $15 million a year for psychiatric services for patients accused of crimes and deemed incompetent to stand trial.
This project was borne of a backroom deal at the Lege and never fully vetted - certainly in public hearings - before legislative budget writers surprised virtually everyone except insiders with its inclusion in 2009. But this seems too much: Montgomery County and the GEO Group should be required to repay the interest already forked over by state taxpayers and those payments should be ended going forward. Such deals are referred to as "privatization," but in reality only profits are privatized and costs are socialized.
See past, related Grits posts:
- GEO Group secretly snagged forensic psych hospital contract in budget conference committee
- Private psych hospital born of backroom deal fined, investigated
- Rocky start for private forensic psych facility