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Felton

McLennan County commissioners Wednesday continued fiscal year 2016 budget requests by hearing from Sheriff Parnell McNamara, who is seeking new personnel, raises and 13 new vehicles, among other things.

Officials presented budgets that cover the county sheriff’s office, the jail, and the jail’s kitchen and medical needs.

McNamara is requesting an additional $83,589 for the county sheriff’s office; more than $560,700 for the jail; another $6,000 for the jail’s kitchen; and more than $106,000 for the jail’s medical needs over fiscal year 2015’s budget. The Shepherd Mullens Visitation Center off Marlin Highway only had a $40 increase requested.

McNamara requested seven new employees with salaries that total more than $302,000. The positions include five deputies, an investigator and a civilian assistant.

Jail Lt. Pam Whitlock said because of the amount of overtime the jail deputies are incurring taking shifts working at the courthouse, they were requesting two additional deputy positions that would stay where needed at the historic building.

McNamara said the new deputy positions are a very serious matter of safety and security for the courthouse.

“Most people know where Waco is, know where McLennan County is,” McNamara said. “If an active shooter, or a violent person, wants to make a statement and cause as much havoc as they can, they’ll probably pick the courthouse.”

McNamara said he was not speaking ill of the private security that works in the courthouse, but said his deputies are better trained to handle security.

“We just ask the court consider two additional deputies in case we do have a problem here, we would not have to wait until help arrives. They would be on-site,” he said.

McNamara also requested an approximately $5,000 raise for Whitlock to promote her to captain and to move her salary from the jail’s department to the sheriff’s office’s budget. He said her duties are increasing and she would begin handling all aspects of the budget.

Another $644,277 was requested for 13 replacement vehicles, and commissioners agreed to finance them for $215,000. Several of those vehicles are Tahoes, and Commissioner Will Jones said the court is realizing just how expensive those vehicles are to maintain.

McNamara said the Tahoe is by far the premier police vehicle across the state and country for its durability, proven record and storage.

But “it’s not the only option out there and we are looking at some others,” he said.

Vehicle purchases

County Judge Scott Felton said this likely will be the last big purchase of vehicles for the sheriff’s office for a while because it would replace most of the remaining vehicles in poor condition. From here, Felton said, it is likely the county could pay cash for single-vehicle requests.

Commissioners also gave preliminary approval to the purchase of new defibrillators, increased WiFi capability and increasing the jail’s medical budget for overtime from $100,000 to $140,000.

The jail’s medical director, Dr. John Wells, said he already has spent $115,000 in overtime this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. He said it can take five to six months to replace a person on his staff because of the extensive background screening process that is conducted, which leaves them shorthanded.

Wells also requested two additional personnel to help with inmates who have mental health issues.

The bump would bring his MHMR staff to three people.

“As we become the mental hospital for the county and surrounding counties, I feel like we need three individuals,” he said.

Wells said he has seen an increased volume of inmates coming in with psychological problems, most of whom are repeat offenders. He said there is one inmate who has been jailed about 200 times in the past four years.

Nothing is final in the budget until it is officially adopted. The court hopes to have the proposed budget posted on the county’s website in about a week for residents to view.

Commissioners have not yet discussed whether to approve individual raise requests, additional personnel requests or whether to grant a cost-of-living pay increase for county employees.

Budget discussions continue at 9 a.m. Thursday in the Commissioners Courtroom on the first floor of the McLennan County Courthouse. Commissioners must officially adopt a budget by Aug. 31.

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