The Austin County Commissioners Court approved a plan to implement new voting systems in the county which are expected to improve safety for voters in November and move towards allowing voters to vote at any county polling location rather than in their precinct’s location. The court also examined options for a contract to meet state requirements for inmate care at the county jail.
While the new system won’t be ready in time for the July 14 runoff election, the court approved a request from Austin County Elections Official Kim Rinn. Rinn said the purchase would allow the county to move toward a countywide voting system that permits voting at any location in the long run, but in the short term would also allow the county to promote social distancing. It will also streamline voting so that voters can complete one ballot for all of the elections they are eligible to vote in rather than multiple ballots for the different elections they qualify for, making for more efficient and accurate voting overall, Rinn said.
The voting equipment has a total cost of about $228,000 and will be funded by about $136,000 in federal grants. Grants are being provided through the CARES Act and 2018 and 2020 Election Security Grant programs. The grants require about $22,000 in matching funds from the county up front. The remainder of the balance will be addressed as the budget process is worked out in the next budget cycle, said Austin County Election Official Kim Rinn. Funding options for the remaining balance include bank loans in three or five-year terms and tapping into any unspent elections funding remaining from the current fiscal year.
“If I have funds left in my budget, then I’m all for that,” Rinn said.
Austin County Sheriff Jack Brandes presented two options to the court for contracts to meet state requirements to provide medical care for inmates at the Austin County Jail. The state has mandated that, among other requirements, the county provide access to on-call mental health professionals and a part-time licensed vocational nurse or nurse with higher certifications. Brandes said he supported the on-site nurse requirement because it allowed a medical professional to make a judgment call on whether a prisoner needed to see a physician rather than leaving that decision to an officer without the necessary medical training.
The county may see cost savings with the new contract. Brandes said the county paid about $136,000 for medical care for inmates last year. Contract options with Bellville Medical Center and Southern Health Partners have bids in for about $96,000 and $88,000, respectively. Both bids assume a monthly-calculated average of 35 prisoners in the jail with options to charge more if that monthly average goes up.
The item was tabled to allow both bidders to review charges for additional medical procedures that might cause contract overages so they could provide more information based on the history of medical care provided at the jail. The issue will be taken up again at the next commissioners court meeting.