A new minimum staffing ratio under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act goes into effect Oct. 1 for certain juvenile facilities, contributing to a request for almost $560,000 in new spending for the county’s juvenile probation department.

McLennan County Commissioners continued budget discussions Thursday for the upcoming fiscal year, which also starts Oct. 1. The court heard from the juvenile probation, adult probation and information technology departments, among others, as they start to piece together the general fund.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed in 2003 and, as intended, has changed many practices among prison operators as its requirements have been phased in, said Collin Coker, director of McLennan County’s Bill Logue Juvenile Justice Center. The minimum staffing ratio is 1 staff member to 12 inmates and moves to 1-to-8 starting Oct. 1, Coker said.

Last year, officials determined the facility would need 11 positions to become compliant, he said. The juvenile probation board approved six new positions last year, leaving five more to be added.

Unlike other county departments, the juvenile probation department’s budget is required by the state to be crafted by the five district judges, two county court-at-law judges, the county judge and the county auditor. Commissioners are responsible for approving the final budget amount, not line-item requests.

The juvenile probation department submitted a $7.3 million budget for 2018, up $1.4 million from 2017, County Auditor Stan Chambers said. However, only about $557,000 is new spending, Chambers said. The rest of the increase is because commissioners had used the department’s fund balance to cover much of its budget in recent years, and it has dwindled.

The $557,000 in new spending will primarily go to seven new positions and salary increases.

Coker said he doesn’t ask for salary increases lightly, but the department has lost personnel in recent years, and most of the departing officers cite inadequate pay.

County commissioners have received about $106 million in countywide budget requests for the upcoming year. Commissioners will submit a proposed budget to the county clerk July 25 for public inspection and hope to have the final document approved in late August.

No decisions regarding the budget are final until the document is officially approved.

Adult probation

Commissioners also heard budget requests Thursday from Adult Probation Director William W. “Chip” Seigman.

The adult probation department is largely covered by state grants, Chambers said. The county is responsible for costs associated with housing the department, he said.

Seigman requested $25,572 in office equipment, primarily to accommodate seven new staff positions. Seigman said he will hear from the state next week about the positions.

The department is also seeking $5,618 from the county for a garage.

The department was able to buy two vehicles last year, the first vehicles it has had. Officials previously relied exclusively on personal vehicles.

Seigman said he would like to place a secured portable building or garage in the parking lot.

County Administrator Dustin Chapman said they are working with the city of Waco to see what types of permits are required.

Precinct 1 County Commissioner Kelly Snell asked if it wouldn’t be easier to park the vehicles in the sheriff’s office locked parking lot.

Seigman said the last time they checked there wasn’t room.

Computer upgrade

IT Director Lisa Fetsch also asked for $360,260 to do an upgrade on half the computers in the county. Fetsch said half is about all they can get to in a year while managing other duties.

The department is also seeking $25,000 for a 2017 half-ton Ford Cargo Van. The department has a 2004 jeep, but it has very little cargo room, she said.

“I’m really surprised they’ve utilized it this long,” Festch said.

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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