The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is projected to overspend its annual budget by $51 million, the third straight year it has blown past its planned expenditures by at least $40 million.
If the projections hold, the $423 million spent by the Sheriff’s Office in the year that ends Feb. 28 would be 14 percent more than Commissioners Court planned when it passed the county budget last year.
The numbers are getting a close look from county officials who have scheduled hearings for next week on what is expected to be $1.4 billion budget for fiscal year 2010-11.
“I would like our budget to reflect reality,” County Judge Ed Emmett said. “I think that’s what people are waiting to hear from the sheriff this time is, ‘OK, why are we over so much?’”
About two-thirds of the sheriff’s budget goes to running the county jail. It currently houses 1,000 inmates in facilities built for about 9,400 prisoners. The strain has contributed to $34.4 million in overtime this year, as well as millions spent to house overflow prisoners in other counties and Louisiana.
There’s your answer, Ed. The good news is that unlike HPD, whose primary cost drivers have been salaries and pension commitments, solving this particular shortfall is straightforward: Stop locking up people who could instead be out on bail, and expand outpatient mental health services for inmates who would benefit from that. Commissioners Court has appointed a fancy jail czar in place who was tasked with Doing Something to reduce the inmate population, so it’s not like they don’t know what the problem is. Let’s get on with it already.
Of course, for some people, it’s easier and perhaps more natural to just play dumb and haul out the outrage:
“I have asked the budget director to explain to me how the sheriff can be $51 million over and we are expected to carry that by cutting the precincts’ budgets,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole said.
Eversole said he fears the Sheriff’s Office overspending will come at the expense of maintenance of 2,700 miles of roads and thousands of acres of parks in his precinct.
“Why can’t I be $51 million over budget? That’s what I asked the budget director,” Eversole said. “I think those questions are going to be asked again in open court.”
Yo, Jerry. If you read the sidebar on this story, it says that last year the Sheriff’s Office spent $56 million more than was budgeted. Were you asking these questions then? Seems to me that if all of the people who have been responsible for this problem all along – that would include the Sheriff, the District Attorney, all of those lock-em-up judges, and Commissioners Court – had been doing a better job, we wouldn’t be in this position now.