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.

What’s your Reaction?


  1. I guess the Spectator and some of the commenters posting here would have us return to the days when someone was thrown from their car on Hwy 290, they were left in a ditch for two hours until the hearse arrived (there was no ambulance until the late 1970s).

    How can you put a price on human life? People’s lives are saved by these ambulances and the helicopter. It’s a blessing to live in a county with this quality of emergency care. It’s ranked Number One in the state. We have a large community of older people here. We have a large community of ranchers, ranch hands, farmers, truck drivers who would look at these responses and think y’all are a bunch of democrats from Houston with no common sense.

    1. Yes. We can. After this we need to hit the the school board and then go forward. They work for us. Not the other way around. And the school district needs to hear are concerns and not shut us down either. Remember. It’s or tax dollars paying them. They don’t pay us. And I am so proud of Tom standing up. Actually, I don’t think he knows how many people in Washington County are backing him.
      Tom. We back you. Don’t stop. Please. You are our voice and give us our opinion to be out spoken. Without you sir. We have no voice. I hope you understand how important your message and job is. You are protected 100%. They can’t tell you not to do anything. You have Washington County behind you. I talked to many. Believe that sir.
      Back to the other
      We need a fresh start. All need to go. Too much money leaving, no answers or accountability. The ones new put in are being over run buy the bad ones there now. Everyone knows this. The ones that combat this here. Are the small majority that’s in the wings with the ones that don’t fit for us. They for themselves. They have no agenda but their own political ambitions. Anyone who say this is not true is on their side. Period.

  2. Get Em Spectator, I’m tired of this political runaround, we want Truthful answers now, who do they think they are

  3. Let’s be honest with ourselves. EMS is a service and it’s not there to make money. Our budget should not rely on the money to come back through revenue. It’s a bonus that we can collect insurance money to help offset the cost of EMS. The truth that is across the board for aKk EMS is that they only receive about 25-30% of what is billed. We can’t rely on our revenue to come back. But like I said it is a service for the citizens. Our neighboring county Austin county has a total EMS budget shy of 2 Million. They have roughly 10k less population than Washington county. Now, I am not saying we should be anywhere that low. Realistically I believe our county EMS budget should be around 5-6 million to have a good EMS service. We have extreme cost that could be saved just by a few changes to the way Washington County EMS operates.
    First, I suggest that the Helicopter would be audited for the amount of flights it is called for and if those calls truly warranted a helicopter.
    Second, allowing st. Joseph EMS to do their own inner facility transfers. We are sending our ambulance on so many transfers everyday. And those transfers take away an ambulance that should be staying in county as much as possible to service the citizens.
    Third, use other resources to assist in care of the community. Kevin Duramus does not want to utilize the trained EMT’s and Paramedics that work for Brenham Fire Department, and the surrounding Washington county VFD’s. To assist as first responders. The tax payers pay for the Firefighters as well and they are under utilized because the EMS director does not want to have them assisting them. That’s selfishness at its finest. The citizens deserve to have as many helping hand show up to a serious EMS call. By utilizing the firefighter EMS would not need as many ambulances on scene and or squad vehicles roaming. Simple but yet so far fetched, and selfish for the EMS to prevent that from happening.

    1. The audit for the helicopter program is a no brainer, unfortunately it seems as the true numbers will never be released by this commission. As long as this has been a hot topic for county citizens, there has never been any transparency in the audits.

      As for using Brenham fire department and county vfd’s, it is a slippery slope. Yes, Kevin Duramus has a reputation being hard to work with. But the Brenham fire department has only a few emt’s on staff that are still certified. The rest have let there certs go and as they have never ran medical, they may not have immediate capabilities to start running medical calls without trained experienced medics being there. Not to mention they only have 6 firefighters for the entire city on shift at any given time, sometimes only 4. Which with one structure fire call or car accident, they do not have the resources to respond to first response calls. Especially as the volunteer side has dropped so bad in numbers, they are virtually nonexistent. Out in the county would be the same problem. Not enough trained personnel and resources.
      Firefighters should be running first response county wide, as they do almost everywhere else. And you are right, it would definitely be a help to the entire county if they did. Just do not believe its an easy change with Duramus’ attitude, the commission, and limitations of the volunteer Fire departments which have been neglected over the past decade.
      As for the St. Joe’s running transports, the interlocal agreement between the city and county states that washco ems is the sole ems provider in the city. That’s why they run all the transports. That’s also why there is no transport service, such as allegiance, in the city. On multiple occasions, there have been so many ambulances out on transports, none could respond to emergency calls in the city or county, leaving Austin county or Navasota to respond to Washington county calls. And that’s ridiculous for how much of our tax dollars are being used by that department. Allowing a transport service into city, First response from fire departments (if they have certified trained personnel), and some interdepartmental courtesy would go a long way.

      1. So just to touch on a couple of things you said. First, per requirement of the state, every paid commissioned firefighter must have and maintain at least ECA/EMR level medical certification so, no one who is a paid TCFP certified firefighter at Brenham FD has “let their cert lapse”. Second, approximately half of the paid staff is EMT-B certified and there are a few paramedics also on staff, many of which have medical experience on an ambulance, some with years of experience, on an ambulance so that is a none issue. So to say it’s a “slippery slope” at least in the city is totally false. The county might be a tougher sell, but we’re also not asking them to start IV’s and push meds or intubate people, they would only be there to assist WashCoEms on the most critical of calls where extra hands are needed for CPR, bleeding control, ect. And also let’s not forget that the county requires all county firefighters to at least be CPR certified and these people live in the community and in many instances can beat an ambulance to the scene and at least initiate CPR or hemorrhage control to help improve patient outcomes. Last, the inter local agreement that states only WashCoEms can take transfers in Washington County needs to be taken and torn into small pieces and thrown in the trash. I have first hand knowledge of there only being one or even occasionally no ambulances in the county because 2-4 ambulances are on transfers and the remaining one is on an emergency 911 call. The public is for the most part in the dark about that and that’s something that needs to be very much addressed and brought into light. There are so many solutions for some of the problems we have in this county, but unfortunately due to the EMS directors ego, and the inaction of the commissioners court in an attempt to back him and do whatever he wants, none of them have been addressed or even considered at this point. It’s time for things to change. When in doubt, vote them out!

        1. I am a TCFP firefighter. You are absolutely right on EMS training needed to be a TCFP certified firefighter. But what you do not understand is once you have received a certifiable class completion, you can challenge the TCFP commission test. Though a national registry/state registry is not required by TCFP, it is required to be paid to run to those calls such as being on an ambulance. As I stated, some have let them up. And yes, they do have one paramedic on staff, possibly 2 since they have hired new staff recently and most of them are certified rather by state or national. But not everyone. Some of the staff that have been there for years, such as some in there command staff, they do not actually hold any EMS certification any longer as they have not used it nor stayed current in the training of emergency medical. They have not needed too. If they began being paid to go on those calls, they would have to be recertified. Even some of the people that are certified there have not used or trained in emergency medical for years. I was simply stating the fact that they have not ran medical/first response and it would take time and training to get there. It was not a dig at the fire department at all, nor was I trying to say they shouldn’t be running first response. They could be an absolute help on fire response call and they should be. Just was stating that they have not, and are not currently set up to start doing them at this point.

          I also stated I agree with they should be running first response. And agree with you they would be a huge asset to the county, but again they do not have the resources or personnel to do so. And yes, most are CPR certified and any help at those calls you stated are excellent. They do not need to be certified as they are not paid, though if it was me on the ground I would want someone competent working me, I.e be trained.

          The main problem would be Duramus not playing nice. It would hurt his funding and let people into his cookie jar that are not under his control. And there is the problem. You 100% correct on the short of ambulances due to transports. The interlocal agreement between the city and county makes washco ems the sole provider for the city’s emergency medical. That’s why St Joe’s or allegiance or alliance can not run transports in the city. That would be more people in the cookie jar for Duramus, not mention the transfer money the the department probably gets from it. This puts the citizens in a bad position. And you are correct, it has happened on many occasions were there was not an ambulance available due to them being on transfers.

  4. Dear Mr. Spectator,

    Thank you for staying after these people, it’s about time the commissioner’s court and EMS director are held accountable for their feckless, irresponsible spending of taxpayer dollars. One thing I would also like them to acknowledge is that they are attempting to mislead people with their “revenue” numbers. They are saying their revenue is the total amount they are billing for and not the dollars that they are collecting, their actual revenue. As your article states they are only at 37% of what they projected to bring in and that number is not going to get any better. And to respond to what Mr. Rink said above, I think the vast majority of people didn’t know what has been going on in this county, but thanks to hard questions being asked the tide is going to change and there will be new people sitting on the commissioners court after the next few elections. Keep up the good work Spectator.

  5. They say a lie will be half way around the world before the truth gets its shoes tied. Keep after the truth spectator numbers can be manipulated but the truth comes out sooner or later. As I have said before a good ground ambulance is effective and 1/10th the cost. Medicare is very aware of this and its a losing battle to collect from them or insurance companies with added copter service. The leaders all know this and they don’t care about the taxes or how high they may get, problem is the distribution of the funds and EMS is way to expensive 9.66 million for a county of around 33 thousand with no interstate or 4 year college. Somebody being sold Ocean front property in Las Vegas.

    1. I agree. As you see. I also see something rotten here. I guess they think the White House can get away with it so can they. Just my thoughts

  6. So let me guess he needs time to come up with lies and cover up???!

    I thought MrHanath said last week y’all met and all your questions were answered??!

    Time for Hanath and the Judge to go!!!!

  7. Dear Spectator,
    Thank you for your continued efforts in investigating the counties careless use of taxpayer funds. I use the word careless in lieu of another more descriptive and truthful word.
    The county judge not showing up for the meeting he called speaks volumes of guilt. Maybe he was meeting with local party officials and his lawyer. IF you have nothing to hide, it is easy to answer questions concerning the use of taxpayer dollars. And it does not stop just at the judges door, all the commissioners and certain department heads share responsibility for any misdeeds with taxpayers money.
    A great deal of the money spent on getting this county judge and court elected came from the wealthy county residents outside the city limits. And they were not shy about placing notice in the local paper on identifying themselves. Because they are the ones demanding better and faster law enforcement response ( sheriffs department), immediate air ambulance services and now satellite EMS stations throughout the county. Ironically, they don’t really care about the costs to the average taxpayer, as their multiple AG exemptions have them paying in numerous cases, less than $100 per year on property valued at over a million dollars. Very handy for having extra cash for campaign contributions. And the governing board of tax county appraisals conveniently vote not to reveal their various AG exemptions on the website. .
    And it is a sure thing that when the county officials get together, along with certain state officials, they laugh about how easy it is to manipulate and make fools of the locals who re-elect them every year. After all, these sheep always want to be considered a member of the herd giving them a feeling of false security.

    1. The city and county have had honest public servants, but this community continues to run them off. Unfortunately, the value of where you were born is more important than an honest desire to serve the community.

    2. Let’s vote to go with a two year system of the public. It’s a lottery system. You get picked, and have a jury like at a trial, to determine if you in good faith to hold the job for two years. The city and county pay the bills for them and then they are given their jobs back at then of their services. We save money and the people get back control over our lives and country. What you think.

  8. Many locals say it’s hard to put a price tag on the amazing health and safety job provided by our local EMS. These aggressive questions about a few extra taxpayer dollars are probably very offensive to the EMS community. Helicopters are expensive to maintain, but very popular. The previous county judge before the current one was very frugal —and eventually voters punished him for not delivering these types of services people wanted. The voters are obviously ok with their county leadership- and the 61% hike in spending. That’s the way it looks to me when these commissioners and judge sail through every election .

    1. It’s not aggressive questions. It’s being held accountable for what is being spent correctly and responsibly. And if it is so with all these issues. Then then answers should roll off their tongue quickly. You should agree with that

    2. They shouldn’t be offensive at all. This government purchased a helicopter because it would not cost the county much. The problem is, EMS before this helicopter would RARELY fly a patient every year. Now that they have it, it’s rare to hear they did not fly in 24 hours. I’ve been in healthcare for a while, and no patient population changes like that night and day. I think that EMS needs to focus on staffing more ambulances that can move patients versus squads and a helicopter. More ambulances would have been way more beneficial than this helicopter.

    3. So looks like Mr.Hanath and the judge lied again????? I’m shocked. I went back and watched the last video and Hanath said they met and explained the expenses. Usually when you have something to hide you duck and dive questions. Wonder what kind of lies are they coming up with.

    4. “a few extra taxpayer dollars” … Really?!?!?!!! We’re not talking about a few dollars … it’s millions, literally. You’re correct, a helicopter is VERY expensive to maintain and staff. Expensive enough that we, as taxpayers, can’t afford it at this time. It would be great if we could, but the simple fact is we can’t and the auditor has provided the proof that we can’t. The numbers don’t lie. One of the things we accept living in a rural area is that we don’t always have immediate access to medical care like those that live a mile or two away from a Level 1 trauma center. If this was a problem for me, I’d move closer to one of those trauma centers. If speaking out against unwise use of taxpayer dollars is offensive to someone, then it’s high time to be offensive. Nothing is free in life … and you don’t buy what you can’t afford (unless you’re the federal government, of course). The financial boondoggle of the county judge and commissioners court continues as the whirly bird flies about the county retrieving people with a broken finger so they can send a bill to their insurance company!

    5. Who do you talk to? Everyone I talk do thinks this EMS program is crazy. I’ve asked the question but never gotten answers…in the last 20 years, How many people have died or become more seriously injured because they didn’t get air or ground EMS service quick enough? The attitude that the cost doesn’t matter because we’re saving lives needs to be justified with statistics. Makes no sense to increase spending 61% when the money nor the need is not there. This Judge and Commissioners Court have become just like Austin and DC.

      Ask this question and keep up the good work Spectator!!

  9. To the spectator, you please stay on this , you’re doing a beautiful job. As for the others. I smell something rotten and dirty. If you can’t answer questions up front, and looks to me as if they trying to avoid them also. That’s not a good sign at all.

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