At the June 24, 2024, Commissioners Court meeting, Austin County officials deliberated over the distribution of funds from Senate Bill 22 (SB 22), a legislative act designed to support rural law enforcement and prosecutor’s offices through substantial grants.

Assistant District Attorney Brandy Robinson presented an update on the SB 22 funding, which allocates $175,000 to Austin County’s District Attorney’s office for salary enhancements. This grant, part of a broader effort to bolster rural law enforcement, provides financial assistance specifically for salary improvements in rural areas, addressing the critical need for competitive pay to retain and attract qualified personnel.

Robinson emphasized the importance of utilizing the grant fully within the current fiscal year, ending in October, to avoid returning unused funds to the state. The District Attorney’s office plans to apply the grant money to supplement existing salaries and provide retroactive pay increases for the 2023-2024 year. This approach ensures compliance with the state’s guidelines and supports maintaining competitive salary levels.

The discussion highlighted the complexities and challenges associated with the implementation of SB 22. County Judge Tim Lapham, Commissioner Chip Reed, and County Auditor Billy Doherty engaged in a detailed dialogue about ensuring the grant funds are used appropriately while planning for potential future changes in funding.

Commissioner Reed inquired about the deadline for using the funds, to which Robinson clarified that the grant money must be spent before the fiscal year ends. Lapham and Reed discussed the logistics of distributing the funds, noting the importance of categorizing the salary increases as stipends rather than permanent salary adjustments. This method safeguards the county from financial liabilities if the state discontinues the grant in future years.

Robinson also outlined the process for allocating the funds, mentioning the creation of new positions and the need to supplement salaries for existing roles. She detailed the cautious approach taken by the county in the early fiscal year due to uncertainties about the grant amount and the comptroller’s rules.

Doherty acknowledged the widespread challenges counties face with SB 22 implementation, labeling it as a “cluster” and noting that compliance with the evolving rules has been particularly challenging. Despite these difficulties, the county aims to make the most of the available funds to support law enforcement and prosecutor’s office salaries.

SB 22, effective September 1, 2023, was introduced in the 88th Legislature Regular Session to address salary disparities in rural Texas. The bill provides financial assistance to sheriff’s departments, constable’s offices, and prosecutor’s offices in counties with populations of 300,000 or less. The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts oversees the grant program, ensuring that funds are used for eligible expenditures, such as salary supplements and necessary equipment.

The Austin County Commissioners Court plans to finalize the distribution details in the upcoming meeting, ensuring that all grant funds are utilized effectively to support the county’s law enforcement and prosecutorial functions.

You can watch the full discussion at the 00:01:42 mark of the video below:



Floating Vimeo Video