Costs for raid on polygamist sect in the millions and mounting

AUSTIN — Providing foster care for the 460-plus children seized at a polygamist ranch six weeks ago could cost taxpayers as much as $1.5 million a month, and that does not take into account the millions the state is on the hook for dispatching countless caseworkers and law officers to West Texas in the days after the raid.

Figures provided by Gov. Rick Perry’s office Friday covering the first three weeks show that operations related to the April 3 raid on the YFZ, or Yearning for Zion, Ranch in Eldorado cost nearly $7.5 million. Officials cautioned that the figures are preliminary and incomplete.

And they are sure to keep rising.

“We’ll be getting a better handle on it as invoices from the field continue to come in,” said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. “Not everyone in every agency has submitted all of their invoices yet.”

Documents for expenses from the beginning of April when officials served the initial warrant at the ranch through April 23 show that the state’s social service organizations, law enforcement agencies and military forces spent more than $5.3 million. Local agencies in Tom Green and Schleicher counties, which are expecting reimbursement from the state, have spent nearly $945,000, and private vendors have billed the state for $1.17 million.

After the state removed the children from the compound, operated by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a state district judge awarded temporary custody to Child Protective Services and most have been placed in foster care group facilities or private homes.

Goodman said the cost for such care ranges from $38 per child per day to $106. That works out to a low-end monthly cost of about $530,000 and a high of about $1.48 million.

About a week after the state moved against the breakaway Mormon sect, Perry and top legislative leaders signaled their intention to help Tom Green and Schleicher counties offset the unexpected costs of providing legal services for the children taken into custody. A proposed budget submitted to Perry’s office sets the dollar figure at just over $1.8 million and includes such expenditures as psychological examinations, expert witnesses and visiting judges.

Typically, counties pay for such services, but taking so many children into custody at once is considered unprecedented, and the cost could bust the budgets of the two comparatively small counties.

“I believe that our most pressing question at this point is how the state can channel funds to the two counties so that the immediate impact on the clerks’ offices can be ameliorated with temporary staff and equipment,” Carl Reynolds, who heads the state’s office of court administration, wrote in an e-mail that was released with the cost figures.

Goodman said she expects the state’s social service agencies to have more complete figures Tuesday when they are scheduled to appear before the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee.

“Obviously, we want to provide the committee with the most accurate cost estimates as possible, so we are continuing” to compile the figures, she said.

By the numbers

Here’s a breakdown of preliminary costs through April 23:

• State social service agencies: $3.14 million

• Department of Public Safety: $1.2 million

• Private buses to transport sect members: $633,736

• City of San Angelo: $820,000 (estimated)

• Schleicher County: $81,607

• Other counties and cities: $43,000

Source: Governor’s office (some figures are rounded)

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday May 17, 2008.
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