When Fort Bend County Sheriff Milton Wright sought an additional $1 million plus to house inmates out-of-county and pay for additional medical care through September 30, the measure was approved, without discussion, by the Fort Bend
I just didn’t understand why these same fellows, who have been known to scrutinize questionable $300 expenditure and talk about it for an hour, would just bob their heads up and down on this very sizeable request.
And, I wondered why the sheriff needed funds to pay for out-of-county housing of inmates through September when that new jail wing is scheduled for completion two months before the end of the fiscal year.
I have seen court members throw a wall-eyed hissy fit over some department head making a $200 purchase without a purchase order.
So, since I was in such a state of confusion, I called County Judge Bob Hebert to find out if the commissioners are just in the back pocket of the sheriff, or what?
Actually, a matter of control
Hebert said the court knows that the out-of-county inmate housing is garnering a premium price but it must be continued until the new jail is completed and then the inmates will be transferred back to the county in increments.
Now, he also said that while Sheriff Wright requests a certain level of funding each year for things like inmate housing and medical costs for the inmates, the commissioners do not grant the full request at budget time.
“Once an elected official is allocated a certain amount of money, it is theirs and we have no say. However, when we give them a lesser amount, they are required to come back to the court and request the funds. That gives us a certain level of control. When the money is
allocated to their budget, by law they could transfer those funds to another area in their budget,” Hebert explained.
Now, this is starting to make sense.
No crimp on the budget
Because the court knows they have to pay for inmates out-of-county and for inmate medical care to adhere to the laws, they actually do allow for these expenditures in the contingency fund.
Hebert says departmental turnover often allows the county to roll over the unused salaries and benefits to the contingency and thus allows the county to use fewer funds out of contingency than planned for.
Any funds allocated for inmate housing will “roll back” if not used and can then be used for jail operation, he explained.
OK—so now I get it.
Speaking of the budget
Hebert said he has asked all of the elected officials and department heads to cut their 2010 budget by 10 percent.
And thus far, during the ongoing budget hearings, everyone is doing “wonderfully,“ he says.
“In times like these, both personally and as a public servant, I believe we should watch what we spend and spend as little as we can. And, I will hold to that idea until someone taps me on the shoulder and says ‘hey, stupid the recession is over.’ And, the recession is not
over so I am very pleased with the efforts being made to hold budgets down,” he said.
Hebert also pointed out that while the county had not been as seriously impacted as some parts of the nation, he felt being cautious was the best way to go.
He said Fort Bend County had benefited to some extent by the recession. “The county is saving money on building the large ticket items because construction costs are down considerably. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the recession isn’t over so we have to keep that in mind and
plan accordingly,” he added.