McLennan county commissioners Tuesday began what will be a monthslong discussion to assemble the fiscal year 2016 budget, which includes how to handle the increased expenses related to the deadly Twin Peaks shootout.
Exactly how the mass arrests of 177 bikers May 17 and its effects will hit the budget is still unknown, County Judge Scott Felton and County Auditor Stan Chambers said.
The final plan must be adopted Aug. 31, and the start of the new fiscal year is Oct. 1.
As of Tuesday morning, 95 of the 177 arrested bikers had been released from jail, Felton said.
Commissioners began discussions Tuesday on the county’s debt service fund, which is used to pay off various bonds and certificates of obligations. Total required payment for next year is about $3.1 million. The court also heard about its special revenue funds, which exist from fines collected according to state law, where the money can only be spent on certain purposes.
On June 23, commissioners plan to discuss the county’s general fund, which is where funding related to the shootout will start affecting departments’ budgets.
Felton said it is possible the county could receive assistance from the state and federal level in handling expenses. He said he has spoken with Gov. Greg Abbott’s office, U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, and local representatives about the matter.
“They look at this as an unfortunate disaster that happened to an innocent community, that we don’t harbor events that cause crime, that we’re a wholesome community,” Felton said.
Flores said his office has been working with county officials to try to find ways to provide federal support.
“We have also been in contact with the Department of Justice and Gov. Abbott’s office to see what can be done to assist the community in the wake of the Twin Peaks incident,” Flores said.
Felton said if federal and state officials are able to help, that information will be needed soon, as the county begins to put together its budget.
“We have less than 100 (bikers) finally in the jail, but all those bonded out, they’re going to start setting trials and we only have two district judges. It’s a logistics nightmare,” Felton said.
McLennan County has five state district courts with concurrent jurisdiction, but only judges Ralph Strother and Matt Johnson preside over felony criminal cases.
Two months before the shooting, the county had approved additional funds to hire a visiting judge to help with felony cases and ease the county jail population. That program is likely to be extended to help with the increase in trials, Felton said.
“We had a short-term plan for a visiting judge. It’s going to turn into a long-term plan,” Felton said.
Chambers said the court-appointed attorneys budget is anticipated to be much higher for fiscal year 2016, as well as the jail and district attorney’s budget.
Felton said he hasn’t seen requests from the sheriff’s office seeking additional funding, but he expects them to come.
“As these trials are going on, because of the type of people these are, as far as when you get into the really bad guys, security is going to have to step up quite a bit more,” Felton said.
Commissioners will continue budget talks at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Commissioners Courtroom on the first floor of the McLennan County Courthouse, 501 Washington Ave.