HAYS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — A new budget proposal is on the table for Hays County, and it includes shaving off $4 million in jail outsourcing costs. That means, all of it.
“I have made a strong statement as MLK said, Let your budget be your moral document,” said Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra.
“We have no reason to be outsourcing inmates at the rate that we are outsourcing them,” he said.
Becerra presented his proposal to Hays County commissioners this week, saying he recommends a “lean budget that focuses on core essential services,” due to the impacts of COVID-19.
The county has been outsourcing inmates to other county alleviate overcrowding.
Becerra says he hopes recent changes, like the new cite and divert policy countywide, will result in lower inmates, in the first place.
“What I am doing is I am challenging us to do what we said we wanted to do, to do the things we have promoted; cite and release, cite and divert, council and magistration,” he said.
He’s also proposed $715,000 in new positions to expand current jail operations.
Not all commissioners are on board with the judge’s proposal, yet.
“Population and crime don’t freeze just because you freeze the amount of individuals that can be held in a facility,” said commissioner Walt Smith.
He is among three commissioners who say stopping outsourcing outright may be premature.
“It’s just to get to that point where you truly can have large scale improvement I think we still have solid ways to go,” said commissioner Lon Shell.
The commissioners say the new jail, set to partially open this fall, will house an extra 50 to 100 inmates now sent to other counties.
The county has been outsourcing about 200 a week this month, according to reports from the sheriff’s department to the county judge’s office.
“We hope that there’s impacts there that reduce the need for outsourcing in general, but from a pure housing standpoint, if it were to be today, we would still probably need some outsourcing funds in our budget,” Shell said.
Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe agrees.
“Although we anticipate the jail expansion to be completed in September, we will then have to begin renovations on the existing jail, and I do not believe we can absorb all the inmates into the jail expansion,” she wrote to KXAN News.
But Becerra says now is the time to make the new policies work in their favor or, he says, at this rate of incarceration, they’ll face the same problem.
“When this jail opens at full capacity we will still be outsourcing. So what can I say, as the chief budget officer of the county, whenever we’ve floated a $100-million-dollar bond so we can stop outsourcing inmates– in part– and we’re not stopping the outsourcing of inmates? It is insult to injury,” Becerra said.
The county commissioners will review Becerra’s budget proposal and propose any changes.
Tax rate for FY 2021
Becerra’s proposal also recommends a small decrease to the tax rate: From .4237 last year, he says, to .4187.
But even if the rate decrease is approved, homeowners will still pay more since home appraisals have increased, the judge explained in a Facebook post Wednesday.
“This means the average home in Hays County valued at $274,688.00, will see an increase of approximately $37.07 per year or $3.08 per month. Although the tax rate has dropped, home appraisals increased,” he wrote.
The county’s budget workshops are open to the public and are set for 10 a.m., August 11 and 18.
You can also email your comments before the workshop to firstname.lastname@example.org.