The McLennan County Sheriff’s Office is asking county commissioners to approve 14 new vehicles and 12 new positions, including six for the jail.

The sheriff’s office presented budget requests Tuesday for the jail, jail medical facilities and the office itself.

“That represents right at 1/3 of our whole general fund budget,” County Auditor Stan Chambers said of the three budgets. “This is actually a very important meeting here.”

The sheriff’s office is asking for a 1.9 percent increase, up $171,238, from the current fiscal year budget of about $9.2 million. The jail department request is .6 percent higher, or $133,938 more, than the current fiscal year budget of $20.6 million, and the jail medical budget is 2.3 percent, or $71,019 higher, than the $3.1 million fiscal year 2017 budget.

Sheriff’s office

The sheriff’s office is seeking six new positions and raises for three positions, some of which include title changes.

Two of the six new positions are for litter abatement officers, and the city of Waco plans to cover the $76,869 for each, Capt. Pam Whitlock said.

Of the six new jail positions, three would be jailers, and three would be booking tech assistants, Whitlock said.

“To adequately manage workload we need five booking techs, but we’re asking for three,” she said.

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards recommended additional staffing in specific areas after a review two years ago, Whitlock said. The office is working to fill those slots over a three-year period, she said. The county approved new positions last year to start on the recommendations.

The sheriff’s office is also seeking almost $72,000 for two Dodge vans, more than $166,000 for four trucks, more than $172,400 for four Ford SUVs, more than $154,000 for three Chevy Tahoes with graphics, and $26,000 for one used vehicle.

Economic development

The Waco-McLennan County Economic Development Corporation is seeking $250,000 more from the county for the third year in a row, bumping the county’s portion to $2 million.

Formed in 1997, the economic development corporation is funded half by the county and half by the city of Waco. The Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce serves as the administrator for the organization, which pays out incentives to attract businesses to the area and encourage new development said Kris Collins, the chamber’s senior vice president for economic development.

The city and county each put $1.75 million into the economic development corporation this year, for a total of $3.5 million.

The organization has a $13.4 million fund balance, and $8.1 million of that has been designated for pending projects, leaving little room for new projects, Collins said.

The corporation offers assistance to companies expected to provide a 20 percent or better return on investment to the county, she said. So far this year, the corporation has supported 61 projects, awarded $34.9 million in grants and leveraged $1.33 billion in private capital investments, she said.

“There have been significant investments in all of the precincts and they’ve all had strong returns of investment,” Collins said.

For every dollar contributed to economic development corporation, the area sees a return of $32.89 in private capital investment, she said.

Sometimes the best defense of a low tax rate is a good economic development offense, said Bill Clifton, an economic development corporation board member.

“I think we can’t stand still,” Clifton said. “I think we have to be progressive and attempt to grow or we will die.”

Clifton said the corporation is not asking the county to gamble on something that might work, but to put money in a method that has been proven over the past 20 years.

“Money isn’t the only thing we compete with, but it’s an important thing to compete,” he said. “We need some poker chips in our fund balance in order to play the game.”

County commissioners will continue to hear budget requests from department heads and elected officials Wednesday. The court plans to submit a proposed budget to the county clerk July 25 for public inspection with the hope of having the final document approved in late August.

No decision regarding the fiscal year 2018 budget is final until the document is officially approved.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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