The Burnet County Jail is facing a drastic increase in medical costs as well as lagging revenues as 2023 draws to a close. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey
Burnet County officials are trying to rein in rising operation costs and lagging revenues at the Burnet County Jail, which is facing a drastic increase in its contract with its medical provider along with understaffing issues and diminishing prisoner intakes.
The jail could become a large financial liability if things did not change, County Auditor Karin Smith warned commissioners in November. They have until Dec. 31 to negotiate a medical contract for inmates that is set to rise by 64 percent on Jan. 1 when the current contract expires.
“You don’t want to get it to a point where it is costing us more money to operate the jail than it would to house our inmates out of the county,” Smith said. “Then you are subsidizing; you’re using Burnet County tax dollars to pay for other counties’ inmates.”
The Burnet County Jail houses out-of-county inmates, including from Bell and Llano counties, for a fee. In an ideal situation, the jail pays for itself by providing housing for more prisoners than Burnet County alone generates. If the cost of housing exceeds the fees paid, then Burnet County taxpayers are footing the bill for other counties, Smith said.
Turn-Key Medical, the firm that treats inmates at the jail, proposed an increase to $1.265 million a year from $771,000 a year. According to Smith, this was the lowest bid received for medical services and is down from Turn-Key’s initial $1.4 million proposal.
At the Nov. 28 meeting, commissioners unanimously approved allowing County Judge James Oakley to sign off on a new medical contract before the next meeting on Dec. 12 if it met Smith’s and the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office’s standards.
The contract increase is not the only problem the jail faces. Jail revenues were down 45 percent in October and a lucrative contract with Bell County for prisoner intakes was cut in half, Smith told DailyTrib.com.
“It’s just the perfect storm,” she said. “You’ve got expenses going up and revenues going down and jail standards rising.”
Part of the problem is a lack of jail staff, which leads to fewer inmate intakes and increased overtime costs, according to BCSO Chief Deputy Alan Trevino.
“The (revenue of the jail) fluctuates towards the end of the year when we’re trying to get our staff their vacation hours, their holiday hours, or any of those hours that they accumulate throughout the year,” he told the Commissioners Court on Nov. 28. “We’re paying significant overtime or dropping (the number of inmates) in order to not pay overtime.”
Smith made sure to note that the drastic medical increases were not necessarily tied to the jail’s management but to rising costs, especially for medical care.
“There is certainly no finger-pointing here,” he said. “But the bottom line is that we’re heading for an iceberg, and we need to make sure that we adjust the rudder.”