Jail, trash put county over budget

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The Socorro County Commission reviewed the county’s second quarter finance report during its regular meeting Feb. 26, and the two departments most over budget were the jail and solid waste department.

The county must submit quarterly financial reports to the Local Government Division of the state Department of Finance and Administration. County finance director Roberta Smith said she wanted to discuss the county’s second quarter financial report before the commission sends it to DFA because her department got behind due to the Tyler software conversion.

Smith said the county’s cash balance as of the end of the second quarter, which was Dec. 31, 2012, was over $10 million, including investments.

Revenue was good at 59 percent, which was more than was budgeted to come in by that time, Smith said. Expenses were at about 51 percent, which Smith said was still good, but transfers out were significantly over budget at about 71 percent because of the detention center and solid waste department.

Smith said the jail was overbudgeted mainly because of alternate housing, as well as medical and dental care for inmates. She said the solid waste department is over budget mainly because of the tipping fee the county pays to the city of Socorro.

“So those kind of expenses are really kind of out of our hands,” Smith said. “But I did want to point that out that we are going to have to subsidize those two funds more than we budgeted for, obviously. So we can expect to transfer more out by the end of the year.”

County manager Delilah Walsh said the county cut the jail’s budget quite a bit this fiscal year because they had hoped to save on alternate housing by putting ankle bracelets on some inmates instead of sending them to other counties’ jails. However, not many inmates could afford the $300-per-month ankle bracelet fee so the program didn’t bring in extra revenue.

Walsh said even the county’s new policy allowing minimal fees for indigent inmates doesn’t help alleviate the alternate housing issue. She explained many agencies, particularly the Adult Probation Office, don’t want the inmates released with ankle bracelets. Plus, even the lower ankle bracelet fees are not affordable for some inmates.

On the medical expenses issue, county detention administrator Evangel Maldonado said inmates often put in requests for dental work and medical care.

“Anything that they can’t take care of out on the streets, they come to the jail to get it taken care of,” Maldonado said.

“And it’s very expensive,” Smith added.

Walsh said the detention center tries to send inmates who need medical care to McKinley County, but Socorro County still has to cover the bill.

“There’s really little we can do to relieve ourselves of that obligation, other than releasing them,” Walsh said.

Maldonado said other counties charge a fee for medical expenses, and perhaps Socorro County could do the same. District 4 Commissioner Daniel Monette asked county staff to get more information on that possibility.

“Once we accept them, they’re our responsibility,” District 5 Commissioner Juan Gutierrez said. “And a lot of them will do it on purpose.”

Maldonado said one man had a hernia for several years, then when he went to jail he said it was bothering him and he had to have surgery. Walsh added many other inmates live with conditions like lung disease or liver disease for a long time without treatment, but the county ends up paying for their treatment once they are in custody.

Monette said the hospital writes off many uncollectable accounts, and asked if any inmates would qualify for that. Walsh said the hospital provides inmate doctor visits free of charge, but when an ambulance is called, the county must pay the city for that.

Walsh said judges have been good about releasing inmates on their own recognizance to have surgeries done, but sometimes the inmates can’t be released. She also said the majority of bills the county sees are for procedures that can’t be performed in Socorro.

“It really is a difficult system to deal with,” Walsh said.

County attorney Adren Nance said the county only pays for what is medically necessary, and they rely on medical professionals to make that determination.

Walsh said the hernia patient, for example, lived for years with his condition before the county paid for his surgery. But if the county hadn’t taken care of the surgery and something had happened to the man while in custody, it would be the county’s fault. She noted many such circumstances are out of the county’s control.

In other financial business, the commission:

  • Acknowledged budgeted versus actual expenditures for November 2012 through January 2013.
  • Acknowledged the county’s finance report and January journal entries.
  • Approved a memo to be sent to all county departments regarding fiscal year 2012-2013 department spending. The memo states any further spending that was not originally budgeted for this fiscal year will be denied. Smith noted a lot of spending this fiscal year has been for unforeseen but necessary items. Walsh said this time every year, during the last three months of the fiscal year, the county starts denying spending requests because budgets are overspent.
  • Approved vendor checks totaling $143,089.34.
  • Approved payroll checks totaling $167,905.50.