Commissioners concerned about jail operations budget

Published 3:00 am Thursday, July 26, 2018

Amid all the discussion Monday detailing the needs for a new jail facility and where it might be located, some commissioners were focused on the looming operating costs.

Ken Upchurch, cofounder of TCU Consulting Services, presented his firm’s findings from a study analyzing the county’s crime rates, demographics, court case loads and more to determine the specifications a county jail would need to meet moving forward.

But with a bigger jail comes greater costs, which the county does not yet have.

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“We knew that was going to be a constraint from day one,” said Vice Chairman Russell Johnson, District 6. “We need to digest the study and look at the varying operating costs and we all as a commission need to question (Upchurch) on what he sees as the best way to bring the jail into operation in a way that we can afford.”

A chart provided by the consulting firm lays out the operating costs and salaries from 2013 to 2018 at the current facility and uses those numbers to anticipate costs under the assumption that the jail opens at full capacity in 2021.

The annual operating cost has risen approximately $109,000 over the past five years from $559,405 in 2013 to $668,175 in 2018.

However, the analysis projects the budget to rise from $705,485 in 2020, the projected final year in the current facility, to $1,838736 in 221 when the new jail would theoretically open.

The jump comes primarily from increased salaries and wages, as the new jail is projected to need 37 employees compared to just 13 at the current facility.

Upchurch said, however, that the county would not necessarily have to fully staff the jail that year, partly because the jail is not expected to be near capacity at that time.

The firm projects only 105 of the 129 beds would be needed during 2021 with the average daily population projected to rise from to 71 in 2021 from 67 in 2018.

While the average population is only expected to rise by five inmates, the 105 beds factors in separation requirements, peaks in incarceration and population control factors.

The difficulty for the commission, Johnson said, is the balance between building a jail that will have the space to accommodate the county’s needs for years to come while still having to manage operating costs in the present.

“The goal is for it not to be functionally obsolete too soon, but to also build one we can operate from day one,” Johnson said.

The commission authorized a temporary sales tax with the help of state legislators Rep. Alan Boothe and Sen. Jimmy Holley last September to fund the construction of the facility. The tax is 1.5 percent throughout Pike County except within the Troy city limits, where the rate is 0.5 percent.

The commission raised court fees to begin stocking up funds for the operational budget, but Chairman Robin Sullivan said the revenue is not enough to cover such a massive leap in the budget.

“We might have to go back to our legislators and ask for help; that’s all I know to do,” Sullivan said.

The tax is limited explicitly for funding the jail’s construction and will expire once the money is collected to pay for the facility.

Sullivan said operating at a lower staffing would help to relieve the cost burden on the county.

“That is if we fully staffed it that year, which I don’t think we’ll do,” Sullivan said. “We would base the amount of deputies or jailers on the population of the jail itself. There will be empty beds built into that.”

Chad Copeland, District 4, said the commission will also have to look at finding funds within the current budget to shift toward the jail operation budget.

“Basically, there’s not a lot of funds in any department, so when you talk about having to start increasing one department’s budget, you have to look at where we’re going to take away from another one,” Copeland said. “A lot of the places we could get money are restricted in the way we can use it.”

Copeland said most of the options for shifting funding is in the general fund budget, which is only about $6 million.

“There’s not a lot of room to play with there,” Copeland said. “We have it budgeted at about $650,000 right now and we’re on pace this year to bring in about $130,000 I think in court fees, so that would bring us right under $800,000. That’s where we really need to come in at as an operational cost without taking money away from another department.”

The operating budget will continue to grow as well according to the firm’s projections. The budget for 2031 is projected to cost over $2.4 million.