Bexar County Commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to allocate almost $116,000 to the County probate courts' guardianship program, ending some uncertainty over whether the County would renege on a commitment it made to fund the program last year.
Formed in 2014, the Bexar County Guardianship program provides guardians for adults who are unable to make basic life decisions and lack family or friends who could assist them, often due to mental incapacity.
"I'm delighted they did what they said they would do last year," said Probate Judge Kelly Cross who oversees the program alongside Probate Judge Tom Rickhoff. "I hope they continue to fund such an exceptional program in the future."
A frustrated Cross had approached commissioners in October 2017 after funding for the program was left out of the County's fiscal year 2018 budget. Commissioners then voted to allocate $140,000 – less than half of the roughly $291,000 requested – to cover the program for six months. Despite the County's pledge to consider additional funding following review of the guardianship program’s effectiveness, Cross said the program and its four employees fell into a state of uncertainty.
The Commissioners' decision on Tuesday brings the program's total funding for the year to nearly $256,000, about $35,000 less than the probate courts originally requested.
David Marquez, executive director of the County's Economic & Community Development Department, praised the guardianship program on Tuesday.
"They've done a fantastic job with the wards they have," Marquez said.
The County provided guardianship to 33 wards when it voted to fund the program in October. At the time, Cross said 147 people were awaiting guardianship services.
The program, which Marquez said can serve a maximum of 65, currently serves 45 wards.
Cross has previously said the program "serves the least among us" in Bexar County, referring to participants who are unable to live an independent life, suffer from a range of mental or intellectual illnesses or disabilities, and do not have anyone willing to provide care and guardianship.
Nearly $112,000 of the funding approved Tuesday will pay for four employees: a general manager, an office assistant, and two full-time guardians. The remaining funds will be distributed among supplies and travel, training, and operational expenses.
Neither Cross nor Rickhoff, the Republican running to unseat Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, had been made aware of the funding consideration before Monday, they said.
Wolff told the Rivard Report on Monday that the County may expand the program's reach in its upcoming budget. Marquez said on Tuesday that additional funding could be sourced from both County and Probate money. Probate funds would come from court filing fees.
Commissioners said they decided to fund the program to reduce the burden on public resources caused by wards repeatedly calling for police, fire, and emergency medical services.
"Our hope has always been [to reduce the use of those services], and maybe in the next presentation in the budget we can get some sort of impact of the decrease in calls as these folks stabilize," Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) said.
Wolff said he understands the need for guardianship services, but he and Commissioner Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2) both believe the State should provide such services.