Burnet County revenue on target

By Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

The Highlander

Burnet County commissioners could be excused for believing County Auditor Karen Hardin has a crystal ball which helps her accurately predict the county's fiscal needs.

Hardin told the Commissioners Court at their March 27 meeting that county general fund revenues should come in at about $31,000 more than what was projected for fiscal year 2018 — a difference of a miniscule 0.15 percent.

“It is very difficult to get that close, though we try to do it every year, and we usually end up within 2 to 3 percent of what we have budgeted,” Hardin said.

Some of the additional revenue is coming from increases in septic tank and flood plain permits being issued as well as increased motor vehicle registration collections.

Hardin said due to Senate Bill 1913, she also budgeted an expected reduction of $330,000 in fines and fees and it appears the numbers will be close to that amount.

Under Senate Bill 1913, passed by the Legislature in 2017, judges are required to ask about a defendant's ability to pay when imposing fines and court costs. Community service and work options must be expanded to allow defendants the chance to do those in lieu of paying fines and costs.

The bill requires courts to order a hearing before issuing a capias pro fine (or warrant for failure to pay) so the defendant can explain why he or she cannot pay, and the judge must consider imposing an alternate sentence, such as community service, if the defendant is indigent. The amount of credit given for jail time or community service served in lieu of payment was also increased from $50 per eight hours to $100 per eight hours.

Judges are also prohibiting from requiring a defendant to post monetary bond in capias pro fine cases and are allowed to waive fees currently charged when holds are placed on vehicle registration or driver's licenses for unpaid fines.

“That bill takes away some of the teeth of collecting fines and fees from people who claim to be indigent and we expected our fees to be down for the year and we are pretty close to the mark,” Hardin said.

Another factor which has helped is having a large population of contract prisoners at the Burnet County Jail. Burnet County receives $40 per day per inmate from other counties in Texas to house inmates and $59.23 per day per inmate to house federal prisoners, while keeping room for about 120 to 140 people from Burnet County.

“When we house between 375 to 400 inmates at the jail, depending on how many federal and how many county inmates we have, we break even on jail operations and we are housing our own inmates for free at that point,” Hardin said. “For the year, we budgeted about $1.9 million in transfers from the general fund to pay for housing our own inmates, but at the end of January, all we had needed was $15,000 and we just spent another $180,000 on capital expenses, so after five months, we are only at 10 percent of what we projected instead of 45 percent. That money will stay in the fund balance if we do not have to transfer it.”

On April 23, county commissioners will begin meeting with county department heads to start the process of developing the fiscal year 2019 budget and officials are hopeful they can do as good a job of projecting a budget as they did for the current fiscal year.

In other action, commissioners voted to allocate a $10 increase in the Passport Acceptance Facility Fee charged by the Burnet County District Clerk's office, beginning April 2. Currently, the county receives a $25 execution fee for passport application it processes, District Clerk Casie Walker said.

The $10 increase in the fee (from $25 to $35) will be placed in a reserve fund to help pay for training, technology, records management and other operational efficiencies in the District Clerk's office. The office processes about 800 passport applications per year, so the increase is expected to generate an extra $8,000 in revenue for the office, Walker said.

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