Monday, September 08, 2008

Dallas County slashing public safety budgets while $48 million rainy day fund sits idle

If Dallas County can't afford to hire enough public defenders to keep caseloads reasonable or pay enough staff to guard the jail, why does the Commissioners Court have more than $48 million in a rainy day fund they're refusing to spend? According to the Dallas News ("Dallas County likes to keep its fat reserve," Sept. 8):

During the height of the budget crisis in May, the county was sitting on $31 million in reserves. And when commissioners approve a 2008-09 budget in less than two weeks, that surplus in the General Fund will jump to at least $48 million – for day-to-day operations alone.

Additional reserves are available in other accounts that pay for major expenses like buildings, roads and technology upgrades.

The reserves – equal to 10.5 percent of the budget, by policy – are meant for unanticipated emergencies.

But they haven't been tapped for as long as anyone can recall. Not for an economic downturn; not for any emergency.

This blog has focused on changes at the public defender's office, where the commissioners court recently imposed ridiculously high caseloads that caused several felony defenders to resign. But at the Sheriffs office the hiring freeze is exacerbating their ongoing guard shortage and and contributing to the jail overcrowding crisis:

Allen Clemson, the Commissioners Court administrator, said reserves weren't needed because no social or other major services were cut this year.

"We didn't make any rash budget cuts," he said.

Sheriff's Department labor groups, however, take issue with that.

Sgt. Greg Porter, chairman of the Dallas County Sheriff's Association, says commissioners are hoarding excessive surpluses while law enforcement positions are being frozen and cut. He said a tax increase may be needed to keep services intact.

"At some point, something's got to give," he said.

Reduced jail staffing at a time when the county is losing civil suits over failing to provide adequate healthcare is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

News of the surplus affirms my sense that the Dallas County budget crisis is a manufactured event clouding some alternative agenda I don't understand. County commissioners initially created the crisis by announcing they wouldn't raise taxes no matter what, then refused to dip into their rainy day fund and insisted on slashing staff instead.

Gutting the public defender office and freezing new hires at the jail are mere on-paper fixes that boost actual real-world costs. With fewer public defenders, more expensive private attorneys will take more cases, running up costs. And understaffing the jail requires making up the difference with overtime, further starving the jail budget when just hiring more staff would be cheaper.

The Commissioners Court wants to portray themselves as fiscal conservatives, but this behavior constitutes pure fiscal foolishness.


Anonymous said...

I know! Red light cameras! Steal and auction cars with no insurance! Roadside checkpoints! Charge prisoners MONEY for their incarceration! That will balance the budget in no time1

Anonymous said...

Only respect for your desire that we keep it civil in our comments prevents me from adequately expressing my disgust at the wool that was pulled over our eyes by the commissioners.

Anonymous said...

it is more politically expediaent to cut the public defenders budget and guards at the county jail than cutting the prosecutors budget or the fire departments budget. But, when they are sued because a dangerous felon is released due to jail over crowding, or a defendent gets a new trial due to poor defense there will be a political fall out that will have to be addressed

Anonymous said...

Knowing Dallas, and the State of Texas in general, does this really surprise anyone.

Gotsta keep things in line for the city and all. Gawd forbid they couldn't pay for another road project,just so Perry's Kronies can come in and make it another Tollway...

10 years ago, we had 1 real tollway, and one really small one. Today, we have 4 with a promise from the city that they are gonna take MORE of our tax funded roads over and hand them to Perry's guys...

Anonymous said...

Dallas County has a murder almost every day of the year. Children are thrown off bridges in Collin County. People accept it. They don't protest and demand answers. They don't vote for new taxes to pay for more Police and Prosecution. They don't vote in a new government. Instead insane laws that allow people to carry concealed weapons in their glove compartments are passed in the theory that we are safer if we all pack heat. The press doesn't care it sells newspapers. The government has gotten the message. Citizens don't care about crime. Taxes are low, let people get hurt.

Anonymous said...

You nailed that, Cicero.

Anonymous said...

Well it is actually better to know the money is there and not say, Who knows where the money is!!