The initial sticker shock of potential financial effects from the May 17, 2015, Twin Peaks shootout have diminished as leaders tout the county’s secure financial standing and express confidence in the court system.
Initial reactions to the arrests of 177 bikers, their potential trials and associated costs were causes for concern as county leaders started preparing the fiscal year 2016 budget a month after the incident. Now, a year and half later, the county reports it has spent less than $10,000 to date.
County Judge Scott Felton said the budget could take a hit from associated costs, but it is likely those accounts will be spread across a few years, allowing for planning of expenses.
The county already has received a grant to help cover costs with the deadly shootout, and Felton said he thinks the grant is the first of many. The county received a state grant for more than $268,000 in October as reimbursement for inmate housing at the Jack Harwell Detention Center, overtime hours, transportation of inmates and for autopsies.
This week, commissioners approved moving an additional $5,000 into the Twin Peaks line item for the district attorney’s budget, adding to the $10,000 already in that fund.
The county’s court system is set up to handle several thousand cases per year, and Twin Peaks would add about 150 trials at the most, Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry said.
“With that in mind, 150 more isn’t really going to put a drain on any of the budgets with any of the courts,” Perry said.
While the costs of criminal cases are somewhat predictable, there is no way of knowing the effect of civil lawsuits as a result of the event and actions following, he said. But the county is insured against much of that cost.
The courts also could decide to move trials outside McLennan County, which would bring extra costs. But the county has dealt with those costs for other cases during his time in office and is in a position to handle it with the Twin Peaks cases if needed, Perry said.
“We absorbed it and handled it and moved forward,” he said. “This past year when we went out to get the bonds with road projects, our bond rating was in the top 6 percent statewide compared to other counties and municipalities. Our financial position is very strong and viewed very favorably by the bond rating services.”
County leaders issued a $10 million certificate of obligation with a 1.97 percent interest rate, which was lower than the anticipated 3 percent interest rate.
Commissioners also approved the fiscal year 2017 budget in August and will collect more in property taxes than last year by almost $2.6 million, a 3.69 percent increase. The court also increased the amount of money the county has in reserves for emergencies from 25 percent of annual expenditures to 29.23 percent.
Ultimately there is no guessing what the end cost may be, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Kelly Snell said.
“Doesn’t matter what it costs. We’re going to pay for it,” Snell said. “That’s why we have a good fund balance.”
He said costs associated with events that unfolded that day are the least of his worries.
“Some of the other stuff we don’t need to pay for,” he said. “Like a piece of artwork.”
Snell raised issue this week with the county allocating $4,000 from the law library fund to buy a stained-glass piece from County Court-at-Law Judge Mike Freeman, who is retiring. Snell and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Lester Gibson voted against the purchase.