The court transferred $150,000 to the indigent defense budget and about $450,000 to pay for overflow inmate costs, which lowered the contingency account from a little more than $1 million to $408,553.
In last week’s meeting, the court transferred about $800,000 from unused salary accounts to subsidize the escalating expenses.Last month, the Trib reported that hoped-for immigration detainees from US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement were not forthcoming. At the time, County Auditor Stan Chambers warned commissioners that increased jail and indigent defense expenses are driving up taxes and bleeding away the county's contingency funds: “You need to be very careful about your decisions going forward because we’re going to need that [contingency budget] to fund these two line items,” he told commissioners.
The cost of incarcerating overflow inmates at the Jack Harwell Detention Center and providing indigent defense could reach as high as $9 million in 2013, which has caused unforeseen strain on the county’s 2013 contingency account. About $7.6 million was budgeted for those two items in the current fiscal year.
The McLennan County Jail on State Highway 6 can house more than 900 inmates, but when it reaches capacity, the county houses its inmates at the Harwell center.
The Trib's editorial board puts great stock in "County Judge Scott Felton’s promise to assemble a Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee to better coordinate trials, plea deals, inmate transfers and other criminal justice matters that, left unattended, can drive up the bills for taxpayers unnecessarily." But Felton and the commissioners court can't control DA Abel Reyna's mercurial prosecution decisions. The county's egregious doomsday deal contract for the jail is already a fait accompli. And the penny ante cost savings measures being implemented hardly amount to a drop in the bucket. It's not a lack of "coordination" causing McLennan's budget crisis but a perfect storm of bad public policy across county government.
RELATED: When tuff on crime becomes tuff on taxpayers: McLennan County jail, DA edition.