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**********************Don't Build It...*************************
My name is Tina Wisdom and I am one of the rape victims you were talking about in some of your letters. I am also concerned about the need for a bigger jail here in our community. What makes everyone so sure that Sheriff Garrett and his Barney Fife Chief Jailer will be more capable of running a much bigger facility than the existing one? I know from first hand experience how well a jail, or shift, Donnie Stewart runs. He was one of the jailers on duty the night I was raped. (He was just a jailer when I was raped.) Now, since the court case in Austin, he has been made Chief Jailer. ... See, when you cover up here in Llano, you get really big kick-backs.
In federal court, Mr. Stewart is quoted as saying you could hear a pin drop in cells 8 and 9 no matter what was going on. They never turn off the intercom system. If this is true, how can two inmates saw through a steel mesh screen with a coathanger, and no one hear it or even notice they're gone for several hours? -- Especially, when there is federal testimony all jailers do cell checks on a more regular basis than even the Texas Jail Standards Commission requires?
How about the inmate that just started to walk away from our jail just the other day? In federal court, it was said even if someone was not sitting right there with the inmates while performing their trusty duties, someone could have been watching from a window on the second floor. Well, I guess on this day that someone might have needed a break?
You see, Mr. Chorney, I am NOT in favor of a new jail. If our officials can't even run our small one, who is going to run our bigger facility? This really concerns me because there has been talk of transferring inmates from other jails to the new jail. Some could be criminals worse than we have had in the past. What happens when one of these really hardened criminals excapes? Is it going to take someone dying to make everyone see Llano needs a change of leadership? As they say, out with the old and in with the new.
PLEASE, CITIZENS OF LLANO: DON'T LET THIS NEWER AND BIGGER JAIL HAPPEN.
Tina Wisdom September 20, 1999
Pub. Note: The letters referred to by Ms. Wisdom are letters to the editor published by _The River Cities Tribune prior to the launch of _ The Llano Ledger. This publication is indeed a forum for the exchange of ideas. I deeply appreciate and applaud Ms. Wisdom's courage in stepping forward. T.C.
**********************A Plea For Change*************************
Once you get past the smoke and mirrors of the LISD's latest 1999-2000 tax proposals, it amounts to this: Last year's combined tax rate (school and bond) was $1.57 ($1.47and $0.10, respectively). the 1999-2000 proposed combined tax rate is $1.65 ($1.47 and $0.18, respectively). See _The Llano News 9/3/99.
That's an INCREASE of $0.08 (5%) over last year's combined tax rate. This 5% increase, in turn, will be applied to higher tax appraised property. The cost to taxpayers will be further exacerbated by the 50% reduction in the school homestead exemption, from $20,000 to $10,000. Claiming a "savings" to the taxpayer of $268,125 in the 1999-2000 proposed budget is disingenuous.
Let's look at the numbers another way. The proposed operating budget (comes from revenues) is $15,225,384. With an estimated enrollment of 1600, that amounts to an annual cost to the taxpayers, either directly or indirectly, of $9,516 per child. Some of these moneys will come from the state and federal government. Remember, however, the government can only give what it takes away in the first place. It's your money coming back to you. 95% of the revenues needed to meet this budget figure will come from local taxpayers directly i.e. $14,464,411. Now if a school tax rate of $1.47 can generate $14,464,411, then the additional bond tax of $0.18 will generate another $1,770,444. That's a combined direct cost to the taxpayer of $16,234,855, or $10,147 per child.
Is this a reasonable cost? Judge for yourself. The annual national average cost to educate a child in private school is $7,000; at the Faith Academy in Marble Falls it's under $3,000 (and you even get to pray there!); home schooling is $565!
Unfortunately, the School Board has a penchant for only considering what the District has to "spend in education", not on what it will cost the taxpayers. They constantly cry the blues over the infamous and mislabeled "Robin Hood" contribution, estimated at $2,271,306. Well, the District receives 5% of its revenues from state and federal sources i.e. $761,269. Offsetting the $2,271,306 by that amount comes to $1,510,037, or about 9% of the District's revenues. Applied across the board, the "Robin Hood" contribution amounts to $0.13 of the school tax rate, and not the $0.30 the District claims. Bad enough, but not nearly as bad as the District would have us believe.
The bottomline is that government run public education will never be cost effective. It's not in the nature of the beast, no matter how hard good people try to make it so. Thankfully, there are other viable alternatives. If we are truly concerned about the education of our children, get public education out of the hands of the bureaucrats. Money can be far better spent for public education than by dumping it into government run institutions.
Harvey H. Klee, Esq. September 8, 1999
******************Single Justice Precinct******************
How does a windfall to Llano County in the amount of $3,572,126 sound? That's the amount of money the County could have saved during the past 20 years if it had a single justice precinct, instead of the 4 it now has. This year alone, it could have saved $296,351 by the simple expedient of having 1 judicial precinct.
Under the Texas Constitution, a county the size of Llano need only have 1 judicial precinct. Up to 4 is permitted at the Commissioners Court's discretion. Each judicial precinct is required to have it its own Constable. By eliminating 3 judicial precincts you also eliminate 3 Constable offices. That's a 75% reduction in overall cost. But 4 judicial precincts isn't required by law nor can it be justified by case load. Llano County's case load is far below that of other counties.
Based upon the most recent information available from the Texas Office of Court Administration, the total case load for all Llano judicial precincts is 3,675. This is an average case load of 919 cases per justice court. By comparison, the average case load for Travis County's justice courts is about 5,680 per court. In other words, the entire case load for Llano County is 35% less than that of a single justice court in Travis County. The number of cases will likely increase in time, but they have a long way to go before reaching an "overload".
Further, greater authority is given to the justice courts in Travis County than in Llano County. At least one of their justice courts, for example, is authorized to decide Class A and Class B misdemeanor cases. Llano County's justice courts are limited to hearing Class C misdemeanor cases only. The burden is less hearing Class C cases only. Nor is the difference in Travis County due to attorneys sitting on the bench, as not all of the JPs there are attorneys.
The idea of a single judicial precinct for Llano County is not a radical one by any means. In the 5 counties that comprise the 33rd Judicial District, only 2 have 4 judicial precincts: Burnet and Llano. Burnet has a population of 33,000 and is required by law to have 4. Llano, with a population of less than 14,000, is not. In fact if you extend the comparison out by another 5 surrounding counties you'll find that of the 10 counties (Burnet, Llano, San Saba, Mason, Blanco, Lampasas, Gillespie, McCulloch, Menard and Kimble), only Burnet and Llano have 4 judicial precincts. Half of these counties have only 1.
Llano County is able to handle its other judicial business with only 1 County Court and 1 District Court. The County Court has only 1 judge, as does the District Court. There are only 3 judges assigned to handle the entire 33rd Judicial District and that covers 5 counties. This averages out to less than 1 judge per District Court.
The change to a single judicial precinct incidentally, would have no immediate effect on elected officials. By law, no elected official can lose their job as the result of a precinct change. They are permitted to complete their current term of office. Of course after their term expires, there is no guarantee that they will be reelected to office. Reelection to office is not an entitlement.
Greater efficiencies are built into a single judicial precinct. By having only 1 judicial precinct, the problem of inconsistent rulings is avoided altogether. Duplication of overhead costs is also eliminated. Further, judicial administration of a single judicial precinct can be greatly streamlined, with accompanying reductions in cost, etc.. And, there will be a more equitable distribution of the work load. Currently, among the 4 JPs one is carrying 17% of the County's case load while another is carrying 43%. The remaining 2 are carrying 19% and 21%, respectively. In other words, 1 JP in Llano County is handling over twice the case load of any two others. Yet, each operate under almost identical budgets with each JP getting exactly the same amount in salary!
The cost savings of almost $300,000 a year by this consolidation does not reflect additional savings that would be realized by way of the sale or lease of unused property, and other indirect cost savings.
Along with reducing the number of judicial precincts, a new position, that of Office of Death Investigator (ODI), could be added. The ODI is an appointed position provided by law that the Commissioners Court may establish at their discretion. The duties could include that of coroner. Llano County's JPs act as coroners, but none are qualified by way of appropriate medical training to make life or death determinations. Not infrequently, an accident victim's vital signs may be so depressed that an unqualified person may not be able to determine their life or death condition. One might declare a person dead when they could be "brought back to life" by prompt and professional medical treatment if a correct diagnosis was made at the scene by a qualified person.
The practice in Llano is to circulate the coroner duties among the JPs on a monthly rotational basis. Each month, the assigned JP acts as coroner for the entire County. The ODI, who would be better qualified, could handle this responsibility in place of the JPs.
Also, duties now performed by the JPs do not include "death investigations", nor should they. An inherent conflict of interest would arise because of the Justices responsibility to conduct inquests. Such inquests could be influenced by their own investigatory findings if they did so. The ODI however, could be responsible for investigating the circumstances, manner, and the cause of death of a deceased person, as well as performing coroner duties. This would result in greater efficiencies resulting in a substantial savings to the County.
Having an ODI would remove the responsibility from the Sheriff's Department and place it under the direct control of the Commissioners Court. The ODI would work in conjunction with the various JPs with respect to inquests. This simple restructuring will further avoid other potential conflicts of interest, as when death occurs in the County Jail while one is in custody. The addition of an ODI would only cost about $30,000 (including salary, vehicle, overhead, etc.) -- yet leave plenty of money left over to build a new law enforcement center. The center could even include the single Justice Court and Constable's Office, to achieve further cost savings. Inmates wouldn't have far to travel for a hearing!
The bottom line is that it is not necessary to spend $296,351 annually to support 3 unneeded judicial precincts when 1 will do nicely. It is also possible to improve the coroner and death investigation services that are now being provided by the county, at no additional cost. And finally, a single judicial precinct provides a way to finance a new law enforcement center at little or no additional cost to the taxpayer. Sounds to me like a "win-win" situation all the way around.
Harvey H. Klee, Esq. August 13, 1999
******************A Need For Change...*********************
During my recent presentations at local forums for School Board candidates, I had pointed out that it is costing taxpayers 40% more than the national average to educate our children in the LISD. I had previously mentioned this in letters of mine that were published in the local newspapers, and that fact went unchallenged, -- until now.
The amazing part was those who were doing the challenging: Bill Kirkman, a current School Board member, and Paul Weyrauch, a past School Board member. Both should know better, -- but apparently don't. (And one wonders why we have such a financial disaster in our school district!)
Curiously, I had even given this information to Kirkman in a 17 page document I had prepared in October of last year! I can only speculate why he (and Weyrauch) waited until now to contest this information. But for those who are interested (and would like to give remedial education a chance), here are the facts:
The District's tax rate is $1.45 per $100 of property value. To generate $15.23 million (this is the budgeted amount approved by the Board for the 1998-99 school year), the county need assess property evaluations in the amount of $1,050,344,827. (That's right, it's over a billion dollars.) Take that assessed amount and divide by 100. (The tax rate is applied to each $100 of property evaluation remember.) That leaves $10,503,448. Multiply this by the tax rate of $1.45 and you have the budget figure of $15.23 million.
By the way, even though Kirkman voted on the budget and should have known what he approved, he stated that revenues were in the neighborhood of $12 million. I told him I got the $15 million plus figure from the local paper, and he argued that no such figure ever appeared there. (See, _The Llano News, July 23, 1998, "Board Approves 1998-99 Budget of $15.23 Million".) Weyrauch also incorrectly argued that District revenues were only $12 million. Gosh, don't they know what they're approving?
Divide the $15.23 million by an estimated number of enrolled children (say, 1550), and you come up with $9,826 per child. According to a September 1993 report by C. Emily Feistritzer, "Report Card on American Education", American Legislative Exchange Council and the National Center of Education Information, the average cost to educate a child in private schools is $6,000.
I updated my figures somewhat and estimated the current cost to be about $7,000 per child. Divide the difference by the national average and the LISD cost comes to 40.37% higher than the national average.
Before somebody gets too excited about comparing the cost of government education with private education as an apples and oranges comparison, realize that my concern is that of a taxpayer and a pragmatist. -- What is the most cost effective way of educating our children? I have no vested interest in preserving any particular system of education.
We're not through with the numbers yet. --We still have $36 million in bonds to pay off. (That's the taxpayer cost of the $19 million bond issue.) Kirkman stated that it only added $.10 to the tax rate for the 1998-99 fiscal year, so let's use his figures. You can do the math yourself, but it averages out to approximately $10,503 per student per year when added in to the basic tax rate of $1.45. Folks, that's 50% higher than the national average for private schools!
Think about it. It would be cheaper if every Llano parent were given $10,000 for each of their school age children (and freeze it there for the next 10 years, -- better yet, make it $7,000 per child) and allow them to make their own arrangements for their children's education! I'm not recommending it (necessarily). -- But it does bring home the point that school financing is totally out of hand.
Harvey H. Klee, Esq. April 27, 1999
Recently, _The Kingsland Current and _The Llano News published letters from Sheriff Nathan Garrett which belittled those who were either opposed to the construction of a new jail or had suggested alternatives to what was being proposed. I had submitted responses to these publications, but none were published. Perhaps you will publish this summary of my response.
Although I am not opposed to a new law enforcement center, I am concerned that it not cost the taxpayers anything to build it. My proposal to consolidate the current 4 Justice Precincts into l Single Justice Precinct would save the taxpayers over $258,000 a year, even with the addition of a new Office of Death Investigator as I recommend, who would perform coroner services for the county.
At the time I presented the proposal to Judge Dodgen last November, I pointed out to him that the Single Justice Precinct would provide the funds necessary to build a new law enforcement center and suggested that the Center include the single Justice Court required of a single Justice Precinct. I understand this latter inclusion was adopted in the Commissioners' Court position paper concerning the new law enforcement center.
My complaint concerning Garrett was more in the manner as to how he conducted himself as a public official towards those who may have had an honest difference of opinion as to the need for a new jail. Telling those people to, "Get a life, get a job, or get the information correct" is arrogance to the nth degree. Garrett has no one else to blame but himself for failing to effectively communicate to the public the need for a new jail. As for the snide remarks against whomever they may have been directed, Garrett should remember that it's nice to be important, but more important to be nice. Since he seems to have a penchant for quoting ex-presidents, he might recall Truman's comment: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!"
Harvey H. Klee, Esq. April 9, l999
Ed.note: Mr. Klee is a candidate for the Place 3 position on the school board. _The Ledger does not endorse political candidates for office. All candidates, as well as the readers, are invited and strongly encouraged to submit material for publication. This newsletter is a forum for ideas, and their free expression. T.C.