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State shortfall, bad economy ganging up on Bexar Adult Probation’s budget

Greg Harman
gharman@sacurrent.com

Officials and staff at Bexar County’s Adult Probation Department are bracing for another year of deep budget cuts as they tally up state funding commitments received over the past few days. Over this closing fiscal year, the department’s $23 million budget was reduced by $600,000. However, this year’s cuts could be twice that as a result of state leaders seeking 5-percent cuts for state agencies, said newbie Chief Probation Officer Jarvis Anderson.

The department receives 75 percent of its funding from the state and only one percent from Bexar County. Nearly one in four of its dollars come directly from the probationers themselves. Compounding budget worries, Anderson said those probationers are also having a hard time making ends meet in this bad economy.

“If they don’t have the money, it’s almost like a wash,” Anderson said. “We typically try to extend [the deadline] if a victim’s involved as far as restitution. But in the end, if they don’t have it, they don’t have it. We work with them.”

Many of the offenders will likely wait until their next tax return to pay off their balances, he said.

Despite the losses, small planned raises for some officers will go forward. And there will be no layoffs even as some vacated positions will start to be restaffed, Anderson said. For the past year, the department has been under a hiring freeze.

While nationally recognized programs like Bexar County’s drug and mental-health courts will be forced to operate at reduced funding levels, the controversial contract with Treatment Associates may come to an end.

TA has been the subject of intense criticism for a rash of “fasle positive” drug test results (see 2008's "Test-Tube Maybes") and for tossing confidential client records in a public dumpster, among other things. Allegations of union busting, improper surveillance, and sexual harassment ("Urine Trouble," 2009) were frequent during the last couple years of former Chief Officer Bill Fitzgerald's time at Adult Probation. Local judges replaced Fitzgerald with Anderson in January.

Anderson was careful in his phrasing on the subject — both TA and Adult Probation are still the subject of at least one lawsuit brought by former probationers alleging bad test results — but he allowed the contract with TA will be carefully reexamined by the end of the year.

“That’s going to be looked at closely,” Anderson said. “There’s going to be something going on with our UA lab, but it has to be where the offenders can afford to go to the UA.

“I don’t want to go it alone, either. If there’s other agencies that need service, maybe we’ll get service for a little cheaper.”

Out-of-work probationers may want start brushing up on their chemistry chops. There's a win-win if ever we saw one.

Posted by gharman on 8/5/2010 5:02:10 PM
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