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Stories Added - December 2009
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Prisoner costs could create county deficit
Trinity Standard - December 2009
GROVETON – After completing only two months of its 2010 fiscal year, Trinity County officials are being warned that the cost of housing jail inmates could create a major budget shortfall this year.
During the Dec. 14 meeting of the Trinity County Commissioners Court, County Judge Mark Evans noted that during October and November also, the county spent $71,280 to house jail inmates in a Falls County facility.
That two-month figure represents 25 percent of the $290,000 budgeted for the entire year and Evans noted that the December bill just received, but not yet paid, totals $40,920.
“If this continues – and it is likely that it will – this will create a major deficit in the budget,” Evans told commissioners.
Sheriff Ralph Montemayor told commissioners that as of Monday, the county was holding 35 prisoners, most housed in the Falls County jail facility.
The Trinity County Jail in Groveton is only rated to hold seven long-term prisoners and state law mandates that all others must be housed in other certified facilities.
“You hear all kinds of solutions to this problem from members of the community, but unfortunately, we are very limited on what we can actually do,” Evans noted. “I can assure you that we don’t have someone sitting in jail because they cannot come up with a $2,000 bond.”
Both Evans and Montemayor noted that prisoners who can be released on bond are discharged from custody fairly quickly. Most of the long-term inmates now being held by the county are those who cannot be released on bond, such as those awaiting transfer to drug treatment centers, state jails or state prisons.
Evans has noted in the past that the state is notoriously slow about accepting inmates after they have been sentenced to prison time.
Other unbudgeted expenses
During their meeting, commissioners also eyed a couple of unbudgeted attorney bills that will be placing more pressure on the 2010 county budget.
Pct. 1 Commissioner Tiger “Grover” Worsham noted that the county is being required to pay $13,000 to attorneys representing Gene Hathorn Jr. during his recent appeal of his capital murder conviction.
Hathorn, 49, spent 24 years on death row after being found guilty of the 1984 murder of his father. His death sentence was overturned this year and a plea bargain agreement reduced his sentence to three life prison terms.
In addition to the murder of his father, Hathorn was originally charged with – but never tried for – murdering his step-mother and half-brother at the family’s Nogalus Prairie residence.
In addition to the payment to Hathorn’s lawyers, Evans noted the county also will have to pay $10,000 to attorneys that will represent them in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Evans noted that the $10,000 represents the deductible portion on the county’s law enforcement liability insurance policy.
He told commissioners the lawsuit involved an investigator employed by District Attorney Joe Ned Dean who was never on the county payroll. The wrongful death incident is alleged to have occurred in Walker County.
“Every time people talk about carrying someone’s law enforcement commission over here, just remember that it also brings potential liability to the county,” Evans told the commissioners.
Environmental officer eyed
In other business Monday, Carl Dyer met with commissioners to volunteer his services to help create an environmental enforcement office.
Such an officer would be charged with enforcing state health and safety laws that deal with issues such as abandoned vehicles, junk piles and illegal dumping.
Commissioners had discussed creating the environmental officer’s position earlier this year but a grant to fund the program was rejected by the state.
Dyer told commissioners that while state law requires a that a full-time county employee serve as the environmental officer, it might be possible to name an existing employee to that post and use volunteers to perform the investigative work.
“I realize that would add some additional duties to someone’s plate, but most of the legwork could actually be done by the volunteers,” Dyer said.
Dyer noted that he would volunteer for the program and added he knows of others located in various Lake Livingston-are subdivisions who also would step forward.
Evans asked County Attorney Joe Bell to verify that Dyer’s suggestion does conform to state law. He indicated that if it does, the matter would be placed before the commissioners court for consideration.
During the meeting, commissioners also:
• Approved the addition of a $5 fee to all county and district court civil cases. The fee was mandated by the state legislature and will be paid monthly to the 12th Court of Appeals.
• Approved the application for the Routine Airport Maintenance Program (RAMP) grant with the Texas Department of Transportation. Under the grant, TxDOT would pay half of the expected $3,000 cost for routine maintenance to per performed during the coming year at the Trinity County Airport near Groveton.
• Renewed the county’s contract with Trinity Auction Gallery. The auction company will dispose of surplus county property through live and on-line auctions, including more than 200 unclaimed guns seized over the past 20 years by the Trinity County Sheriff’s Department.
• Received a report from Nancy Smith of TxDOT regarding the county’s off-system bridges. Smith provided commissioners with reports indicating that all county bridges have been property marked with load limits. She also noted that the county currently has two bridges eligible for replacement by TxDOT – one on the Lacy Road and one on the Helmic-Apple Springs road. Worsham noted that the county recently accepted the bridge leading into the Port Adventure Subdivision off FM 356 and asked Smith to begin work to qualify that bridge for replacement by TxDOT.
• Authorized the county to provide $1,800 to the 356 Volunteer Fire Department as the 10 percent local match for an $18,000 grant being sought for a new pumper truck. Evans noted that the project could be funded using a special forest fund program. Because it will take up to 45 days to obtain the funds through that program, the commissioners agreed to provide the funds immediately from the county general fund and that when the forest money becomes available, it will be used to reimburse the county.
• Authorized the sheriff’s department to charge a $15 per day fee for the storage of large items such as vehicles, motorcycles, trailers, three wheelers, boats and tractors.