Washington County Judge John Durrenberger set up a meeting at his office for last Wednesday between himself and the County’s independent auditor, and News Director Joshua Blaschke and myself. His intention was to explain the meaning of the word “deficit” which the auditor had used to describe the growing losses from the County EMS Department. Unfortunately, the Judge was a “no show” at the meeting he had called, as I was hoping to ask him several questions. The Judge and auditor did meet later that afternoon with Blaschke, but he did not hear anything different from them than what was presented in the commissioners court meeting where the auditor gave his initial report on the EMS Department.
Over the past 5 years, the entire County budget has grown by 61%, from just under $28 million to over $45 million. The EMS Department budget has grown by 143% from $3.8 million to $9.2 million. An independent auditor has told the Judge and Commissioners Court that something needs to be done to turn the losses in that department around. Yet all we have heard so far is how valuable that department is, and that it’s worth the growing losses it’s costing the County and its citizens.
On Thursday I emailed Judge Durrenberger the following questions. He replied on Friday that he would answer them in a timely manner.
- The generator project for the County Jail has been ongoing since the Big Freeze of February, 2021. Since then, the County has had to pay for a temporary generator at a cost of approximately $200 per day. In July the Commissioners Court reported that the last needed part for the new generator is expected to arrive in October. Since then, ground was broken on 8/7/23, and the site prepared for concrete on 8/15. However, I understand that no one took out a City building permit for the job, and work has been halted. Is the County still waiting for that permit to be approved over a month later? Also, what date do you now expect the generator to be installed and operational?
- In 2019 the Commissioners Court was presented with a quote of $115,694 from a local company to construct a perimeter fence with gates around the County Jail facility. In November of 2022 the Commissioners Court approved and signed a contract for another company to construct a fence for $278,986 using ARPA funds. The following month, the Commissioners Court voted to rescind that contract citing “buyers’ remorse”. You said that after further thought, the county was not able to afford a fence for that amount of money. Is it true that you chose instead to spend that ARPA money on the remote EMS stations in the County? And, why is the fence project not included in your 2024 budget?
- In 2019, the EMS Department budget was $3,810,520 (13.7% of the total budget). In your 2024 budget the EMS Department budget is $9,267,375 (20.6% of your total budget). The projected transfer from the General Fund to EMS in 2024 is $2,468,375. Your budget is projecting collections through the Air Ambulance program to total $3,500,000 in 2024, which would cover your budget expense of $3,388,816 for that department. Yet through eight months of this year, you have collected only $1,293,311 of your budgeted revenue of $3,478,000. That’s only 37% of the 2024 budget, so how can you project that you will collect $3.5 million in 2024?
- An independent auditor told the Commissioners Court last month that they need to turn around the increasing losses in the EMS Department. Has anyone come up with a plan to do that? If so, what is it?
- The County has been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to house inmates in other counties due to a jailer shortage at our facility. Do you have a plan to fill those positions, perhaps by offering higher salaries to jailers?
- Why is there no video posted of the emergency County Commissioners Meeting in late August to address the walkout in the County Tax Assessor’s office? That’s the same meeting in which the media were not notified.
Judge Durrenberger has said they should have our questions answered and returned to us by close of business tomorrow (Wednesday 9/27). We will let you know once we receive the Judge’s responses.
And that’s the way it looks to this Spectator.