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Burnet County officials have made progress in managing the county jail’s finances, which have been a point of concern in recent years. According to Burnet County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Alan Trevino, the jail is fully staffed for the first time in its history, pursuing more lucrative federal contracts, and consistently housing strong numbers of inmates.

“The good news is that the sky is not falling,” Trevino told the Burnet County Commissioners Court on Tuesday, May 14.

Trevino presented an update on the jail’s finances to the court following months of work and collaboration with an interdepartmental committee established in December 2023 to address the jail’s financial troubles.

Those troubles came to a head during a November 2023 meeting of the Commissioners Court, during which Burnet County Auditor Karin Smith and County Judge James Oakley expressed serious concerns over the jail’s rising medical costs, jailer understaffing, overtime costs, lagging revenues, and the loss of a big contract with Bell County for prison intakes.

A freshly formed jail committee, with Trevino in charge, spent the past few months working on these issues. The committee includes BCSO Capt. Matt Kimbler, Auditor Smith, County Attorney Eddie Arredondo, and Burnet County resident Patricia Cope.

“We started out in the red,” Trevino told the court. “We are definitely in the black now.”

The jail’s finances are based on its operating costs and the money it earns from non-local prisoners housed under contract with other entities. 

Non-local inmates are sent from other counties, the state, or the federal government, which all effectively pay a daily “rent” for their prisoners to stay. Right now, the charge for non-local inmates is $80 per day. It costs approximately $65 for the jail to house an inmate, local or non-local, so anything over that is revenue.

Major factors of concern include the number of jailers on staff and the number of non-local inmates housed in the jail on a daily basis, Trevino told DailyTrib.com.

Historically, the jail has been severely understaffed, an issue that has come up several times at Commissioners Court meetings. In March, the court had to approve large increases to the BCSO overtime budget to compensate jailers working overtime because of a lack of staff. The jail was down 13 jailers at the time.

According to Trevino, as of May 14, the jail is fully staffed and fully trained for the first time. Also, 14 job applicants are undergoing background checks as possible replacements in case of staffing losses.

A fully staffed jail should reduce overtime numbers and the accrual of holiday time that has to be paid back and prevent inmate reductions during the holidays due to understaffing. The jail has had to reduce the number of inmates in November, December, and January because of a lack of staff. By reducing inmate counts, the jail, in turn, loses revenue.

The Burnet County Jail is currently budgeted to bring in $5.16 million in non-local inmate housing revenue by September, which is the end of the 2023-24 fiscal year. If this target is not reached, money must be drawn from the county’s regular budget to cover any unfunded expenses.

Trevino is confident the jail will bring in its expected budget. As of May 15, the jail has brought in $2.45 million in non-local revenue for fiscal year 2024. The chief deputy crunched the numbers and said the jail is currently bringing in an average of $14,839 per day, which is greater than the average of $14,136 per day necessary to reach its $5.16 million goal.

These revenue increases are rooted in the jail’s coming to terms with the number of inmates it should be housing to function properly, he said.

The jail can hold up to 587 inmates, but according to Trevino and jail Capt. Matt Kimbler, the “sweet spot” for adequate revenue and operation is closer to 432. This number is divided between Burnet County inmates, who provide no revenue for the jail, and non-local inmates, who do bring in funds. 

As of May 14, the jail had 420 total inmates.

“I would venture to say that before the summer is out, we’ll be above (the 432 inmate sweet spot),” Trevino told the court.

According to old estimates, the jail should be housing 140-170 Burnet County inmates to function properly, but upon a closer look, the interdepartmental jail committee found that number was closer to 200-250. This is likely a reflection of growth in the county, according to Capt. Kimbler, who said the jail could actually be over capacity within the next six years if current trends continue.

The remaining spaces not taken by local inmates represent lucrative non-local inmates. Burnet County has specifically pursued federal contracts it believes could be worth more than $80 per head per day in the future.

“(Forming the committee) was valuable mostly, I think, for the commissioners to get an understanding of where our numbers come from,” Trevino told DailyTrib.com. “I think it was a huge success.”

dakota@thepicayune.com