For the 2020 fiscal year, the Atascosa County Juvenile Detention Center submitted a budget request of $2,430,236. The detention center’s request is up $800,000 over the 2017 budget, an increase of approximately 51 percent.
It was announced that due to the unsustainable budget request, a special Commissioners Court meeting would be held with a workshop focusing on the facility’s budget.
Soon, a verbal campaign spread stating the county was trying to close down the center, which was untrue. Atascosa County Judge Bob Hurley has explained that by state law, the detention center is not required to be open. Juveniles can be sent elsewhere at a reasonable cost to the county. Commissioners Court has the power to close it down, but that is not in their interest.
Various employees and supporters of the center showed up to show their support in keeping the center open. One of them was former special education and lead teacher, Michelle Woodlee. Both Pleasanton ISD Superintendent Matthew Mann and Jourdanton ISD Superintendent Theresa McAllister were also in attendance.
Woodlee was the educational director of the Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program (JJAEP) and detention center before retiring four years ago. She addressed the court saying, “With the center’s influence on these kids, they would possibly not be in school if they weren’t detained. We have had success in the detention center and had kids graduate from the center that would probably not have graduated from high school.”
At the special called meeting with Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Bill Gamez, Juvenile Detention Supervisor Daniella Martinez and Fiscal Officer Dora Ogden in attendance, a budget workshop was held. However, representatives came unprepared to the meeting by not bringing in a budget to present to the court.
When asked by the County Auditor Tracy Barrera why they did not bring in their budget, Fiscal Officer Ogden replied, “I was not told to do so.”
After public comments, Atascosa County Judge Bob Hurley opened a public workshop on the detention center’s 2020 budget.
At first, the 2020 budget was proposed at $2.498 million. On Monday, the budget was $2.43 million after the center cut out a JPO position. However, Ogden stated they were looking at another budget, set at $2.23 million, with three proposed positions cut.
One hundred percent of the detention center’s budget comes from the county. Other counties are closing their centers because they cannot afford to keep them open.
Judge Hurley was disappointed at what the representatives provided the court and went through the budget line by line.
“You have 24 guards in your budget. That’s six guards per shift for four shifts. You have one guard in central office. Between the remaining five guards, that’s eight detainees per guard for a total of 40 detainees. The center can only hold 36 detainees at a time. I would like to hear an explanation,” said Judge Hurley.
Ogden said sometimes that guard number goes down to four due to unexpected medical emergencies.
As of Monday morning, the center is housing 11 detainees.
Gamez explained the center bills out to 14 different counties and so far this year, has collected around $135,000. By the end of the year, they should collect $300,000. That’s at $95 per detainee, which the center hopes to increase to $100 to increase revenue.
At the moment, Judge Hurley wasn’t concerned about the revenue being brought in, though.
“From 2014 to the present, we have had a rollover of about $200,000 that gets put into the general fund,” said Gamez.
Judge Hurley stated that was a case of over budgeting more than needed with lots of money being unused. “It’s not a solution. You say you budget $2.4 million and say you won’t use it all. I respect that. How much do you think you can get it down to?”
Gamez did not answer Hurley’s question but stated he predicted the center can get an additional $500,000 in revenue from other counties.
“I’m more concerned about the 30-something staff in your budget and the $155,000 in your food budget,” said Hurley.
The center has a budget of $100,000 for kitchen staff salaries that include two full-time and one part-time cook. The remaining $55,000 is for groceries. Judge Hurley said that averaged $13.69 per meal. Commissioner Mark Gillespie, Pct. 1, added the jail would be more than happy to provide the detention center with meals at $2 per tray.
When Ogden explained they don’t spend the full amount, Judge Hurley then asked why it was budgeted. Ogden answered in case it is needed.
“This has become the culture. Over-budgeting and not spending all of it and being okay with it,” said Judge Hurley.
Commissioner Stuart Knowlton, Pct. 2, stated he hasn’t seen any real effort to explain their budget to the court.
“The task today was for you to justify your budget and to lower it if you could, but I don’t see that effort anywhere here.”
After much discussion and recommendations amongst Judge Hurley, Commissioners Gillespie (Pct. 1), Knowlton (Pct.2), Eliseo Perez (Pct. 3), Kennard Riley (Pct.4) and the representatives from the detention center, Judge Hurley closed the public hearing.
The commissioners went on to discuss appropriate action concerning the 2020 Juvenile Detention budget.
County Treasurer Laura Pawelek explained to Gamez, Martinez and Ogden there is a computer in her office available to any department head and elected official to run a finance report on their budget anytime.
Commissioner Gillespie made a motion that the Atascosa County Juvenile Detention Center remain open and move forward with opening a treatment facility. The detention center will need to get their 2020 budget down to the 2019 budget, including all pay increases. The court will then put the budget on a six month probation. The detention center needs to provide a quarterly finance report and was asked to take another look at their food budget. Commissioner Riley seconded. Motion passed unanimously.