CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
BURNET — Burnet County Commissioners Court on Oct. 13 approved lowering the price other counties pay to house inmates in an attempt to fill beds and help defray operating costs of the near-empty Burnet County Jail.
The Burnet County Jail consistently houses about 120 inmates daily — a fraction of the capacity 587 beds of the entire facility, officials said.
“Since the purchase of the jail, we were able to look at what our contractual agreements would be with other counties and to see what competitive rates we could come up with to house their prisoners,” Burnet County Judge James Oakley said. “We were able to lower the rates from $50 to $35 per night because we no longer had the bond holder involved and the (Private Facility Corporation).”
Lowering the price is expected to result in “a positive revenue flow” for Burnet County.
“Your variable cost is incremental when you take on those new inmates. It’s a 587-bed facility, and the more we fill those beds, (lowering the rate) spreads out the fixed cost,” Oakley said. “You have fixed cost, whether you’re using one bed or 500. You have the same price to heat and cool it, and the debt service on the bond is the same.”
After commissioners approved the rate decrease, county officials from the area responded by expressing interest in potential new contracts.
“By dropping the rate, we were able to match the rate that was charged, for instance, in Comanche County, which was housing the Hamilton County inmates,” Oakley said. “Proximity-wise, it’s better for them to move them to our facility. So we’re able to get them, and some other counties are starting to come in, too.
“There are other counties, too. Some of these smaller counties, when their old facility starts hitting its capacity, they have to start sending their inmates somewhere,” he added.
The Burnet County Jail is currently designated by the state based on staff levels to house no more than 192 inmates. The county would need to consider additional personnel if the number rises beyond that number.
In April 2014, Burnet County, which owns the land on which the facility sits, began operating the facility, which was built with private bond money in a private/public partnership.
Burnet County Commissioners approved purchasing the facility this summer after private investors decided not to renew a contract with the county.
The county is also working with the U.S. Marshal’s service to temporarily hold federal inmates.