The changes come a week after McLennan County commissioners discussed budget woes fueled in recent years by a growing jail population that hovered this past week around 1,300 inmates.A staff editorial accompanying the story opened describing how:
Based on current trends, the county may spend $5 million this year to house overflow inmates from the McLennan County Jail, which is $2 million more than budgeted. That could deplete county contingency funds or dictate cuts in other areas, county officials warned.
County Judge Scott Felton told commissioners if citizens elected District Attorney Reyna and new Sheriff Parnell McNamara because they embraced their tough-on-crime platforms, they must be willing to pay for the results, including possible tax increases to pay for jail operations.
McLennan County Judge Scott Felton during a county commissioners meeting laid bare the escalating, out-of-control jail costs draining county coffers. The numbers presented were shocking: One of every four dollars is now being spent to house and care for inmates — up from $900,000 in fiscal year 2009 and destined to hit as much as $5.5 million this fiscal year.The paper opined that, "at least part of the problem results from officials who, acting on the message voters sent them, are tough on crime. Taxpayers must understand that if we want criminals aggressively prosecuted and locked up, there’s a very real price to pay."
Felton’s transparency in a court long known as less than forthcoming was not only appreciated but necessary. The commissioners court before Felton’s arrival seldom went into such depth in open session about fiscal challenges facing it and the public. Felton’s approach, however, just might get us all working on the same page to solve this latest crisis impacting our jail system.
“This is not a fiscal cliff but it sure is a rough hill we are going on right now,” Felton said. “One of the biggest elephants in the room is that jail population and it has the biggest affect on our fund balance.”
Commissioner Ben Perry compared inmate statistics from Bell and Brazos counties, which average about 600 per day. McLennan County, however, houses between 1,100 and 1,300 per day — and pays a hefty price to do so. Brazos County had 12,000 inmates in 2012; Bell County, 19,088. McLennan County last year cared for an astonishing 36,000 inmates.
This has been going on for a while. Last year the county raised taxes and reduced spending on health care to pay for for additional jail and prosecution costs, and it appears likely they'll need another tax hike in the fall if current prosecution trends continue.