Harris County Commissioners Agree On A New Budget
by: Pat Hernandez, February 26, 2013 10:02:00 am
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett: "Do we have a motion to approve the budgets for Harris County and the Harris County Flood Control District?"
Commissioner: "I move."
Emmett: "Is there a second?"
Emmett: "Any discussion? All in favor, signify by saying aye."
Commissioners: "... aye."
The 1.5 billion dollar operating budget for Harris County is about the same as last year. It is made possible by increased property tax revenue and the largest cash balance in several years.
A big chunk of the budget will go to the Harris County Sheriff's Department at almost $400 million. Sheriff Adrian Garcia spoke to Commissioners Court to assure passage.
"This budget will allow us to leverage the savings from this past budget year, to help keep our community safe, and help our employees build the support that they desperately need."
Commissioners also renewed the annual contract with MHMRA to help treat jail inmates suffering with mental health issues.
Meanwhile, Janelle Robles, with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, thanked Commissioners for rejecting a proposal to privatize the county jail by companies that have a reputation for documented abuse.
"The abuses include financial mismanagement, as well as unsafe facility conditions for staff and inmates. Further, private prisons have higher recidivism rates, generating long term costs. On the other hand, public managed facilities deliver better skills training, vocation classes and substance abuse treatment, and they have fewer inmate grievances. Harris County Jail has recently made progress, in terms of reducing jail overcrowding."
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says jail inmates can get better treatment with here:
"We don't need to be spending a whole lot more on bricks and mortar, we need to be focusing on how can we leverage the public-private resources that are available here to provide better health care."
Emmett is also pleased that the new budget, approved with little fanfare. A new policy by county budget officer Bill Jackson allows county departments to roll over unspent funds from the previous budget into the new one:
"That makes the Commissioners' jobs a lot easier. Because they don't have to wrap up projects in one fiscal year, they can continue. The fact that he's been able to build up our reserves is a big positive, that certainly helps our credit rating. And the mere fact that we've adopted a budget before the fiscal year begins, I take as a good sign."
The new budget cycle begins March 1.