BEEVILLE – Bee County officials are well into their budget planning as they work to afford an additional $700,000 for jail employees and dispatchers.

“We have in our budget the number of jailers that are needed for the new jail to have it fully staffed, as well as adding the dispatchers that will bring us to having two on shift every shift,” said County Judge Stephanie Moreno.

This was one of the largest new expenses being tackled by the judge and commissioners, she said during Monday’s commissioners court meeting.

“That is already in the budget,” she said. “But that alone, those two big ticket items, were about $700,000.”

In all, the county is adding 16 full-time jailers.

“This number is the minimum requirement from (the Texas Commission on) Jail Standards,” Moreno said. “We will also be adding three dispatchers so that we have two dispatchers on rotation at every shift.”

Commissioners have been worked to cut their costs in preparation for these expenses.

“The county has seen significant savings over the last several years in the operations of the county jail,” Moreno said, after the initial budget meetings wrapped up this week. “We have saved money in jail food, inmate medical and mental health transports.

“My hope was to use those savings to cover the costs we anticipated with the new jail.

“Unfortunately, the unfunded mandates imposed by the state legislature have eaten up all the savings, requiring us to look to our taxpayers to raise enough revenue to cover those costs.”

Moreno has been outspoken about these mandates. The legislature orders counties to comply but offers no additional compensation to help with the associated costs.

“The cost of the state court is the most significant inflating cost to Bee County,” Moreno said. “Last year, we added a part-time assistant county attorney to handle the increasing Child Protective Services cases.

“Most people don’t realize that the state has burdened the counties to pay for representing the state’s interest in these cases.

“This responsibility falls on the county attorney. We are moving the assistant position to full-time this year.”

The state, she said, also has required the county to pay for court-appointed attorneys in CPS cases.

“This cost has increased to $190,000 in the coming fiscal year,” Moreno said. “On top of that, the county will be trying to add an assistant district attorney to help process state cases.

“The mandate in paying these expenses comes with no money from the state.

“Instead, we send a large portion of filing fees and fines to the state.

“As the cost to provide state services increases, the savings we have seen in county services shifts over leaving us with no room to grow.”

These added expenses mean the county is looking at raising the tax rate this year.

“Since the state will be limiting our ability to raise enough revenues to cover the expenses that they have burdened us with funding beginning next year, we will almost definitely be looking to raise taxes this year,” Moreno said. “The county will continue to save costs in providing county services and other expenses we can control.

“However, until the state starts sending money along with the mandates to fund the increasing cost of state services, we will be forced to either look to our taxpayers to help pay for them or cut the services we provide Bee County residents.”

Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 343-5221, or at media@mySouTex.com.