Falls County commissioners will dip into the county’s contingency fund and ask neighboring counties for help to make up for $183,000 in state criminal justice grants that were revoked last week because the Sheriff’s Office failed to meet crime reporting deadlines for almost two years.
Falls County Judge Jay Elliott, District Attorney Jody Gilliam and Assistant County Attorney John Redington appealed the decision to withhold money from the four grants in a phone call Tuesday morning with the governor’s office. They were told this year’s decision to pull the funding is final, Elliott said.
A governor’s office representative invited them to apply again for the grants next year but told them it is vital sheriff’s office officials consistently comply with Uniform Crime Report requirements. The governor’s office said the reports had not been submitted since February of last year.
The cash-strapped county has received the four grants for a number of years from the governor’s criminal justice division and uses the money to pay the salary and benefits of a victim services coordinator and a special crimes investigator in the DA’s office.
Grant funds also are used for youth mentoring and juvenile counseling programs in the three-county district juvenile justice department that also includes Milam and Robertson counties.
The DA’s office victims services coordinator position is mandated by law. Elliott said commissioners met Monday afternoon and agreed to continue funding all three positions —likely from contingency funds — and to ask Milam and Robertson counties to pitch in a bit more to continue the youth mentoring and counseling programs.
The news that the state grants were being yanked blindsided Elliott and Gilliam and comes while Falls County Sheriff Ricky Scaman’s peace officer license is under suspension after he was indicted last month of five charges, including felony sexual assault, felony assault on a public servant and misdemeanor official oppression.
Scaman, who is up for re-election, has denied the allegations.
Last week after the the news from the governor’s office broke, Scaman and his attorney alternately blamed the failure of the sheriff’s office to file the mandatory crime reports on a former sheriff’s employee, and later, Gilliam’s office.
Elliott said the governor’s office made it clear in the phone call Tuesday that the sheriff’s office is responsible for filing the crime reports and that the governor’s office warned them in numerous emails and phone calls that they were lagging behind in those duties before pulling the funds.
Scaman and Interim Sheriff Derick Johnson, who attended Monday’s commissioners meeting, did not return phone messages left at the sheriff’s office Tuesday.
“We talked at the meeting and basically figured out that the UCR is 100 percent produced at the sheriff’s department,” Elliott said. “The most disappointing part for me is that the sheriff’s department, to this day, has not accepted responsibility and said that the report is 100 percent from the sheriff’s department and it is the sheriff’s department responsibility to ensure that report is done. They have blamed the DA’s office. They have blamed people who are not longer there. They have blamed all sorts of other folks. But they have not accepted responsibility.
“You can give somebody else a job to do, but it is still the sheriff’s responsibility to make sure it is accomplished,” Elliott said. “He has that responsibility, not the person doing the report. It falls on the officeholder.”
Commissioners set aside $280,000 in this year’s budget for a contingency fund, much of which was earmarked for potential overruns in the $7.8 million renovation to the 80-year-old Falls County Courthouse, he said.
“It will make it much more interesting,” Elliott said when asked if the county could be at risk of a possible fund shortage to complete the renovations, which are set now for completion in June.
Falls County got a grant from the Texas Historical Commission to provide 85% of the cost of the courthouse renovations. The county is responsible for 15% of the total, the judge said.
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