The sheriff’s office will hire 14 new employees to staff the visiting rooms, which are scheduled to open in April. The money will come primarily from savings in the sheriff’s office overtime budget, not new spending.
That funding arrangement solved a political problem that caused a similar measure to be defeated this month. Wanting to keep the county’s tax rate low enough for the average homeowner to see a cut in their tax bill next year, the commissioners on Sept. 9 voted 4-1 against a $1.1 million measure that would have increased the county’s budget for next year.
After that vote, County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who was on the losing side, directed staff to look for budget-neutral solutions. At the same time, the nonprofit group Grassroots Leadership, which opposes the privatization of prison services, questioned the Texas Commission on Jail Standards on why it exempted Travis County from a new state law requiring jails to allow inmates to have up to two face-to-face visits per week.
Initially, the commission had ruled that the county was exempt because it had already spent a significant amount of money on the video system. Grassroots, however, pointed out that the funding came from the vendor, Securus Technologies, and not the taxpayers. The jail commission still has not made a ruling on whether it will remove the county’s exemption, but Eckhardt said she has been told that it would be satisfied with the new plan.