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Why are we paying for a privatized psych hospital?

Makes no sense to me.

The Department of State Health Services has spent more than $2 million on bond interest for a psychiatric hospital that it doesn’t own and that was championed by Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams.

But that’s not all the state is paying for, said Montgomery County Commissioner Ed Chance, who spearheaded the effort to build the Conroe facility. If its allocations remain the same, State Health Services will eventually pay off the entire $32 million Montgomery County borrowed to finance the hospital, he said.

“If they hadn’t agreed to the funding behind it, we wouldn’t have built it,” Chance said.

The state maintains that it’s not covering the total cost of the hospital’s construction, just the interest. State Health Services pays the county $15 million a year for psychiatric services for patients accused of crimes and deemed incompetent to stand trial.

About 9 percent of that is allocated to bond interest, said State Health Services spokeswoman Carrie Williams.

“Interest is OK,” she said. “Construction is not. We monitor the expenses that come in and will be conducting a regular financial review, as we do with all contractors.”

The Legislative Budget Board, which advises the Legislature on financial matters, says it is taking a closer look at the issue. Matt Hirsch, spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, said the lieutenant governor’s office been assured by State Health Services that its payments are acceptable, “but out of an abundance of caution, we’ve asked the Legislative Budget Board to look into it.”

See here and here for the background. I just have one question: If this is such a normal, no-big-deal thing, then surely there are other examples of the state helping counties pay off such bonds. The story doesn’t mention any, however, and I have a sneaking suspicion there aren’t any to be found. I don’t think this is a bad idea for a state-owned facility, but given the involvement of a private entity with a spotty record and the fact that as Grits notes this didn’t go through the normal budget processes, the whole thing has the stink of boondoggle on it. Surely we can find a better use for my tax dollars than providing a subsidy for Montgomery County.

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