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FROM STAFF REPORTS

BURNET — With its two latest dance partners fleeing the floor, Burnet County is doing a little two-stepping on its own when it comes to operating the county jail starting April 1.

But county officials said it shouldn’t impact the budget or taxpayers’ pocketbooks.

“We approved a contract that allows the county to operate the jail,” said Burnet County Precinct 1 Commissioner Bill Neve. He also serves as the chairman for the public facilities corporation that owns the physical jail structure and is leasing it to the county.

The county can contract with a private company to run the day-to-day operations or manage the jail itself.

Earlier this year, Southwestern Correctional, LLC. notified the county and the PFC that it wasn’t interested in renewing its contract to manage the Burnet County Jail. The private company has operated the 586-bed facility since 2008, when it first opened. County leaders and the PFC found another management company in Community Education Centers, which began negotiating for the contract.

But the negotiations fell apart, sending the county scrambling with a March 31 expiration of the Southwestern Correctional contract. So Burnet County commissioners voted March 25 to contract with the PFC for running the facility for the next six months.

Along with the county and the PFC, the other parties involved in the matter include the bond holders who funded the construction of the jail and the bank, which acts as the intermediary between the bond holders and the PFC and the county.

The county isn’t new to running the Burnet County Jail. Prior to the construction of the current facility, the county managed the older facility, located at the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office on Texas 29. Neve said the county just didn’t want to manage the day-to-day operations of the jail when the new one came on-line and opted to enter into a contract with a private company to handle those matters.

The previous facility housed just fewer than 100 inmates.

The current jail, 900 County Lane in Burnet, has more than 550 beds. Neve said the county is only contracting for 144 beds.

The commissioner said the plan was to start slowly and then look at taking over the rest of the beds after the initial six-month contract and if the county opts to continue running the facility.

The jail has always been under the auspices of Burnet County Sheriff W.T. Smith, but this change just means he’ll be assuming more day-to-day managerial duties, Neve said.

The sheriff’s office already has a jail captain at the facility who will likely oversee it. If the county opts to manage more than the initial 144 beds after six months, it would have to look at hiring a warden.

The other change is the employees at the jail will now become county employees if they chose to stay with the facility.

Despite the changeover, Neve said the county won’t experience a budgetary hit because the commissioners were already paying the private company to house Burnet County inmates in the facility and manage it.

The only increase is the county will pay $46 per day per inmate versus the previous rate of $44 per day per inmate. But that increase was already scheduled, so Burnet County officials has budgeted for it.

“Most counties spend $70 per bed, so we’re still saving a lot of money,” Neve said.

Under this contract, the county can still accept U.S. Marshals Service inmates as space allows. Neve said the county has already begun negotiating with the bond holders and other parties to determine what happens after the six-month contract expires.

editor@thepicayune.com