Ever since they got the memo from County Budget Officer Dick Raycraft to streamline budgets by ten percent, department heads have been struggling to look at what they can or cannot live without. Dr. Raycraft has said that while the county-wide hiring freeze has helped control costs, the belt needs to be tightened even more.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says there might be some things the county shouldn't be doing at all, like providing mental health care for people behind bars.
"The more focus we can shift to dealing with people with mental issues outside of the jail system, the more money we save. We're overcrowded in the jails. Easiest solution we can do is find a way to get those people who have mental issues out of the jail and into mental care situations."
According to the Department of State Health Services, the daily average cost of mental health services per person is about 12-dollars in a community based setting, versus 137-dollars in prison. The County Budget Office estimates that the sheriff spends at least 27-million dollars a year on direct mental health care for jail inmates.
Judge Emmett says the county has three priorities:
"We need to do law enforcement. We need to do transportation improvements. wWe have health care issues we need to deal with, and spend that money first, and then look at what else is left and make those decisions as we go."
Emmett says he hasn't had a chance to see what programs or services were streamlined or eliminated by each department as they head into the budget hearings.