WICHITA FALLS, TX (KAUZ) - The state of Texas makes every county pay to house those who should be in state mental institutions and state prisons and guess who is footing the bill?
County officials say the people who pay property taxes are the ones who are paying.
Wichita County Commissioner Lee Harvey says they need to make people aware of programs that are property tax funded - ones he says shouldn't be - they should be funded by sales tax. Such as indigent defense, the cost to house both people with mental health issues and convicted felons. Programs which put taxpayers in the financial cross-hairs.
"The people who pay property tax are footing the bill for the state and then the state wants to limit our ability to raise the revenue that we need to pay their bill."
He says if the state would step up and take responsibility for those costs it would be highly beneficial to the taxpayer.
"The state needs to fund it. There's three things - jail, mental health and indigent defense that the state should step up and take the financial responsibility for. If they could do that we could cut our tax rate substantially."
County officials say the state also needs to fund indigent healthcare and it's not unheard of for states to cover those costs.
"More than half the nation's states are paying indigent defense 100% - taking it off the property tax and just putting it on the sales tax."
He says one of the problems is the state's late pick up of prisoners. The law states they have to pick them up within 45 days before Texas starts paying for them. In the meantime, county taxpayers are paying the cost of incarceration - about $66 dollars a day. Commissioner Harvey says state officials normally don't come get them for a month.
"If they would pay us for them day one that would help take the pressure off the people who pay property tax."
He says all of these expenses drain funds from the county budget.
"We have a $58 million dollar budget in Wichita County. About 2/3rds of that goes to the judicial system and the biggest chunk of that goes to the jail."
The solution? He says if the state would fund indigent defense, help with people with mental health issues and take their prisoners when they are paper ready. That would be a good start.
"Our state is bragging about a billion dollar surplus. Saying we've got all this money - we're strong, which I appreciate I'm a Texan. I want us to be financially strong but I don't want to be financially strong and watch the counties go bankrupt."
Commissioner Harvey says finding places to properly house mentally ill people is also a huge issue.
In the 1960's the population of Texas was 10 million and they had 14 thousand mental health beds available for patients. In 2016 the population is 26 million and the state only has 29 hundred mental health beds available.