Monday, September 10, 2012

Justifying tax increases in Lubbock: Better to discuss civil war, UN takeover than predictable jail boondoggle

I'd heretofore ignored the asinine assertions from Lubbock County Judge Tom Head regarding the possibility of President Obama's reelection launching a civil war and spurring a United Nations takeover of Lubbock County, but a couple of recent commenters pointed out the real reason for such hyperbolic rhetoric: Masking the need to spend more covering the county's speculative county jail expansion, which was supposed to bring in enough additional revenue to let the county reduce taxes. Here's a summary from the Austin Statesman of Judge Head's earlier public reasoning for Lubbock's latest tax hike:
If President Barack Obama is re-elected in November, Head declared, "I'm thinking the worst. Civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war maybe." The tax increase is necessary to fund contingency plans, the judge continued. Obama, Head said, will turn the U.S. over to the U.N. Resistance will naturally follow. "And we're not just talking a few riots here and demonstrations, we're talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy."
Nutty as a Corsicana fruit cake, that one. The comments went viral nationally, adding to our state's reputation as Wingnut Central. The Lubbock Avalanche Journal's editorial board, though, supplied a bit of lipstick for this pig over the weekend, and in doing so identified the real reasons for Lubbock's proposed tax increase:
Considering the proposed Lubbock County tax increase, it’s unfortunate County Judge Tom Head cast a cloud over it with his strange comments about President Obama bringing in United Nations troops to quell civil strife if he’s reelected.

The proposed increase would fund public safety matters involving the sheriff’s office and criminal district attorney’s office.

The tax increase would raise the county taxes about $20.64 for a $100,000 home.

Criminal District Attorney Matt Powell’s office would receive about $200,000, which would be used to buy two vehicles and pay raises for prosecutors.

Powell said he has lost 20 prosecutors — from a staff of 35 — in the last three years. Some went to private practice, but about half went to other prosecutor offices where they could make more money.

Powell wants more to stay in Lubbock and we all want the most experienced prosecutors in our courtrooms.
Sheriff Kelly Rowe’s office would receive about $890,000 if the tax increase passes. He would add seven new deputy positions and vehicles and would increase starting salaries, which will help him attract and retain more qualified employees.
Here's the real deal: Anyone who could perform basic arithmetic has known for years that Lubbock's speculative jail expansion would require significant tax hikes, a situation that was exacerbated when the county couldn't attract enough outside inmate contracts to fill it. Dave Mann at the Texas Observer called the county judge out on this two-faced diversionary tactic:
The sheriff’s department has asked for funding increases in recent years. The reason it needs more money? Mismanagement by Head and other county officials. (For all you out-of-staters: In Texas, the “county judge” is actually an elected administrator, who along with the other county commissioners, oversees county government.)

In 2011, Lubbock County opened a massive, 1,500-bed $100 million county jail. The county didn’t need a jail nearly that big, but Head and other officials hoped to lease out jail space to the federal government or other outside entities that needed to stash prisoners somewhere.

This is a racket that many communities in Texas have tried with diminishing returns. (The criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast has excellent coverage of the issue here and here.) Lubbock County missed the boom in immigrant detention, and now the big expensive jail sits only 70-percent full, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

Meanwhile the staffing costs of operating the massive jail are draining sheriff’s department resources, which has led to call response times going up and some cases going uninvestigated.

As the Avalanche-Journal reported last year, “The almost $100 million county jail dominated county budgets even before voters approved $82 million for its construction in 2002. Call times have languished and cases gone without investigation as spending on the roughly 1,500-inmate facility crowded out new deputies and other officers for the growing county.”

The county instituted property tax increases to help pay for the jail, but it’s still been a disaster that’s straining county resources.

All that eventually comes back to Tom Head, who’s been county judge since 1999.
So the situation is by no means new and certainly has nothing to do with Barack Obama: The Avalanche-Journal reported in 2010 that "Construction of the more than 1,500-bed, high-tech jail facility east of the airport had driven the bulk of six tax increases over the past 10 years." Of course, that same article quoted a county commissioner predicting that "Millions of dollars the jail saved once opened would go to buying down the tax rate as much as possible," but now that the jail is open, they're still raising taxes. Is anyone really surprised?

See prior, related Grits posts:


John C. Key MD said...

So now we have a law enforcement--industrial complex, not just a prison-industrial complex.

Government growth out of control is not good either for the political right or left.

Anonymous said...

Nutty as a Corsicana fruit cake, that one.

HEY! We're not nutty, we just like to lock people up and put them to death on evidence that we basically made up and/or coerced.

Former Corsicana Tiger

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Now, now, if you're a former Corsicana Tiger, surely you got the Collin Street Bakery reference!

Ryan Paige said...

I've read this blog long enough that I should have known to look for a overbuilt prison behind this whole thing.

Anonymous said...

Of course I did (I was just there a week ago), just making sure your readers knew a few of us made it out OK.

Anonymous said...

Does the Lubbock County judge have a point?

Anonymous said...

Lubbock County could save annually a good sum of money by:

Reducing the employee retirement contribution rate from 7% to 4%; and

Reducing the employer match rate from $2 for every $1 to $1 for $1.

Course all counties could do the sam tooe. :)

Anonymous said...