By Shawn Williams
I spoke with Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins yesterday who said a plan has been crafted to save three jobs in the Family Violence Division. The three positions had been partly funded by a federal grant from the Office on Violence Against Women.
The Office on Violence Against Women is part of the U.S. Department of Justice and used to carry out the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. Since the grant will not be renewed, an alternative means for funding was needed to maintain staffing levels.
According to Watkins, the individuals who were in those positions were moved to another part of the DA’s office in anticipation of the loss of grant funding. The secretary position is filled.
The total salary for the three positions is just over $218,000. The federal grant covered roughly 2/3 of that amount while Dallas County paid the rest. So basically there’s a $140,000 gap that must be covered to keep the to two positions.
Enter the forfeiture funds, this is where it gets a little complicated. Forfeiture funds are described by the U.S. Marshals Service as “the proceeds from the sale of forfeited assets such as real property, vehicles, businesses, financial instruments, vessels, aircraft and jewelry.” The Dallas County District Attorney’s office currently has almost $2 million in forfeiture funds on hand.
According to Lincoln Monroe, Administrative Attorney in the DA’s office, forfeiture funds have limitations on how they may be spent. Monroe said the money cannot be used on salaries, so the office could not make up the $140,000 needed for the Family Violence Division with forfeiture funds. The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 59.06(d) puts it like this:
- A commissioners court or governing body of a municipality may not use the existence of an award (i.e. forfeited funds awarded to a municipality) to offset or decrease total salaries, expenses, and allowances that the agency or the attorney receives from the commissioners court or governing body at or after the time the proceeds are awarded.
The Texas District and County Attorneys Association describes a recent innovation if you will, in how county and state officials are handling the funds:
A new way to distribute property, created during the last legislative session, is for law enforcement agencies to loan or transfer forfeited property to another municipal or county agency or to a school district for that agency or district’s use.
Texas District & County Attorneys Association Website
So the District Attorney’s office gifted $140,000 to the Sheriff’s Department. Watkins said the county commissioners will in turn reduce the Sheriff’s Department budget by $140,000 and those funds will be transferred to the DA’s office and put towards the Family Violence Division. He said the commissioners agreed to fund the $78,000 needed for the three positions.
Watkins said that even though the grant funding was going away, he always wanted to maintain the employees. ”If you are doing a great job for the citizens of Dallas County,” Watkins said, “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you keep your job.”
A similar transaction was made to create two contract positions in Watkins’ office. The District Attorney’s Office transferred $48,000 to the Sheriff’s Department to buy video visitation equipment. Their budget was reduced by $48,000 and the funds were transferred to that DA to pay for two separate one-year contract positions that will pay a maximum of $24,000 each.
The two positions will assist the DA’s Public Information Officer Jamille Bradfield. One position will focus on community relations while the other position maintains the office’s website and social media initiatives.
Watkins says that 38 employees in the District Attorney’s office are funded by more than $3 million in grants. State and federal funding is beginning to dry up and municipalities will have to find alternative funding sources if they want to maintain staffing levels.
Crowley Building photo by Dallas Civic Architecture via Picasa. Watkins photo by Jacob Villanueva via Pegasus News.