The Montgomery County Commissioners Court began prioritizing departmental projects as it began its budget workshops for fiscal year 2020-21 on July 28. This discussion centered on whether the county could reclassify federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding for projects.
The matter was discussed while the commissioners considered how to fund an $18 million forensic center for the sheriff’s office. Budget Officer Amanda Carter said the county had about $8 million for capital improvement projects.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador and Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley brought up the federal funding could be reclassified and used to fund Montgomery County Forensics Director Dr. Kathryn Pinneri’s center.
“The only reason she’s running out of space today is because of COVID[-19],” Riley said.
County Attorney B.D. Griffin advised against reclassifying the funds before the federal funding period had expired because the project had been planned for before the pandemic began and the use of funds in this way might warrant an audit. Although the county has already reclassified funds, Griffin said those projects followed the instructions from the U.S. Treasury, but the forensic project may not be considered appropriate.
Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack said he had heard the federal funding period might be extended until the end of 2021, so the county would have to wait until then to reclassify any federal funds. The federal coronavirus aid funding period is scheduled to expire Dec. 31.
Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough said the court should operate under the assumption it would borrow funds to pay for the facility but understand the federal funding will be available after the funding period expires.
Many projects discussed were for the sheriff’s office. In addition to the forensic center, Sheriff Rand Henderson proposed funding an indoor range that would allow for law enforcement training for the entire county.
He also said his department was working on a mental health facility to bring its mental health professionals and inmates into one location to offset the risk of suicide in inmates. Because this would remove some of the jail’s space, Henderson said the facility was not at the top of his list.
For the county’s information technology department, the court also discussed using federal funding to provide greater internet and email security. County officials debated whether this project fell under the federal coronavirus relief fund's jurisdiction, as an increase in emails and telecommuting may be a result of the coronavirus. The commissioners decided to defer a decision.
The court's budget workshop will continue throughout this week and may be watched from home through its website.