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Trinity Standard - Local News
Stories Added - June 2010
Copyright 2010 - Polk County Publishing Company

Prisoner costs slamming county budget
Trinity Standard -

TRINITY – With three months left in their current budget, Trinity County has already used up its allocation for housing prisoners causing officials to look at cutting expenses in other areas. During Monday’s meeting of the Trinity County Commissioners Court, County Judge Mark Evans broke the bad news, noting that a $28,468 bill received for housing prisoners in May caused that budget line item to move into the red. The county had allocated $290,000 for the expense for all of fiscal year 2010, which began Oct. 1, 2009, but had overspent that amount by $6,344. Evans noted that part of the problem is a new interpretation by the state jail commission on rules governing the Trinity County Jail. In the past, Evans said the county could keep six or seven of the long-term prisoners in the jail in Groveton but had to find “contract jail space” in other facilities for prisoners above that number. “Now, we can only keep one or maybe two of them before we have to send them to other jails,” Evans said. He explained that the jail commission is now interpreting the rules to include prisoners who are being held overnight to see a judge before being released. “Those prisoners are now being counted against the six or seven we are allowed to keep. That means that the long-term prisoners basically have to be moved to other jails to make room for the overnight prisoners,” he said. This means the county has to pay other jails to house the inmates and Evans told commissioners that he and Sheriff Ralph Montemayor are constantly looking for the best price available. “The good news, if there is any good news, is that a lot of surrounding counties have built more jail space than they need and are contacting us. At least three county judges have asked if they could house our inmates,” Evans said. He said he would be negotiating with them in the coming weeks to try and get the best overall price, which could include services such as the pickup and delivery of the inmates in Groveton. Evans noted that Trinity County has looked at the possibility of building a new jail and said while they could probably come up with the money to build it, the problem would be the additional long-term expense involved with staffing and operating it. “As we begin our budget process this year, that will be a big item that we’ll have to look at,” Evans told commissioners. Ike recovery funds During the meeting, commissioners discussed but took no action on a request for funds from the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) to hire consultants to assist with the Round II of the Hurricane Ike Disaster Recovery Funds. Evans said that under new federal rules, almost all of the cities and counties in East Texas would not be eligible for the Round II funds because of the federal interpretation of the number of low to moderate income families who reside in the region. Trinity County had been allocated more than $3.8 million in Round II funds while the City of Trinity had been promised more than $1 million and the City of Groveton had been allocated about $427,000. According to the federal interpretation of the rules, San Jacinto County was the only one of the 12 DETCOG counties which had a high enough percentage of low to moderate income (LMI) residents to be eligible for the funds. San Jacinto County was listed with 55.4 percent LMI while Trinity County was second with 44.9 percent. The rest of the DETCOG counties ranged from third place Newton’s 44.8 percent down to Polk County’s 40.3 percent. Evans indicated that under the federal government’s plan, the money previously allocated to DETCOG would be transferred to the Houston-Galveston area. Evans said to combat this, DETCOG was hiring consultants – including former U.S. Rep. Jim Turner – to try to get the interpretation changed. Cost of the consultants will be $100,000 and Trinity County share was listed at $5,129.71. While commissioners agreed that the consultants should be hired to try and help the county get its share of the funds, they declined to approve the matter until it was determined how the county would come up with the money. “I’m all for it, but we need a plan to pay for it,” Pct. 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham said, adding the county already is faced with a major overrun in the cost of housing jail inmates.

 

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