Lubbock County Sees Budget Shortfall on the Horizon - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

8/10/04

Lubbock County Sees Budget Shortfall on the Horizon

The projected budget for Lubbock County next year is just over $41 million. That's $2.6 million more than the county will bring in revenue. The reason: unexpected federal mandates and the cost of housing an overflow of prisoners. Commissioner Kenny Maines says, "The good news is that's less of a shortfall than we predicted for this year, but it's still above what we would like to see."

One of the main strains on next year's budget: it will cost the county $1.8 million to house Lubbock County prisoners at facilities outside the county. Maines says, "The inn is full over at the jail and we're having to spend money to lease those outside beds. A couple of years ago we were bringing in revenue because we had beds to lease."

Maines says there is a light at the end of the tunnel. He expects Lubbock County's new jail will be operational within three years. So for now, the county will dip into reserves to cover the cost of housing prisoners.

They'll also dip into reserves to cover unexpected voting costs due to federal mandates. Lubbock County Elections Coordinator, Dorothy Kennedy, says, "That's where the cost is coming from, because we're federally mandated to have one of those touch screen systems in every one of our polling places."

Estimates predict the cost of new voting equipment, training and software will cost the county around $810,000. Kennedy says, "Unfortunately they don't have a lot of choice. None of us do. So we're just working together to find the best equipment for the biggest bang for our buck." Maines adds a word of caution, saying, "With any electronic equipment, you've got a life span on those machines and probably in 4 to 5 years you'll see need for replacing anything you purchase."

Commissioners will meet on Monday, August 16th, to discuss the tax rate for the next fiscal year which starts October 1st. No word on whether or not the tax rate will stay the same or go up.

If you're wondering why commissioners didn't already know they'd have to pay to house prisoners and budget for it, we're told, first, there's no way to predict an exact number of prisoners that would need to be housed, and second, because the new jail will be finished within three years, commissioners are comfortable using reserves until then to make up for the shortfall. In fact, they'll start making money on the new prison by leasing out its extra beds.

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