Wednesday, September 18, 2013

McLennan Co. raising taxes, raiding budgets to cover ballooning jail, indigent defense costs

Even after a recent tax increase, the McLennan County Commissioners Court has been forced to divert funds from other county departments to pay for higher-than-usual indigent defense costs and operation of a nearly empty jail facility built on spec for which the county can't find contract inmates. The Waco Tribune Herald reported today:
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.

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.
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 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.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if the foolish voters who were taken in by Reyna and the police union will be begging John Segrest to come back once their taxes are doubled?

Anonymous said...

What goes around usually comes around. John Segrest is sleeping well at night but probably stays up late some nights with uncontrolled chuckles. The newly built jail was the worst mistake the commisioners have historically made. Mighty Mouse should make effort to work with the defense BAR and offer realistic pleas.