Quorum Committee brainstorms on budget shortfall for jails, public safety


Finding ways to make up a projected shortfall of more than $629,000 in funding for the Jefferson County adult jail and juvenile detention center was the subject of a meeting Friday afternoon that produced a number of possibilities, but no immediate solutions.

The jail and juvenile detention center receive funding from the one-cent county Public Safety sales tax and the quarter-cent county detention facilities tax. Those revenues are down significantly from previous years, county officials have said.

“We can’t keep spending what we ain’t got,” Jefferson County Judge Dutch King said during the meeting, which was called by the Finance Committee of the Quorum Court.

The actual projected shortage for this year is just over $1.24 million, but a little less than half of that — $616,000 — was left over in appropriations for the adult jail and juvenile detention center.

Also in attendance Friday were County Treasurer Elizabeth Rinchuso; Lee Johnson, administrator of the juvenile detention center; Sheriff Gerald Robinson; and Major Lafayette Woods Jr., operations commander for the sheriff’s department.

According to Rinchuso’s projections, revenue from the Public Safety Sales Tax for 2013 is expected to be down almost $500,000 from 2012, and revenue from the county’s detection facilities reserve fund is also expected to decline.

With the county’s share of the Public Safety Sales Tax, rural fire protection traditionally received $200,000 while the juvenile center got another $800,000. The adult jail received a small amount while just over $124,000 went to the sheriff’s department.

While the adult jail has made money from programs like pay-for-stay, booking fees and renting bed space to federal authorities, the juvenile detention center has not, with expenses exceeding revenues.

In 2012, the juvenile center collected $563,00o in revenue, most of that from juveniles being held for the Arkansas Department of Youth Services.

Johnson said that while the juvenile center can handle 87 prisoners, the average population has been 40 to 45, prompting Justice of the Peace Dr. Herman Ginger to note that several years ago, the county’s legislative body approved the hiring of five additional guards at the juvenile center in order to meet state requirements. Johnson said there are currently three vacant positions at the center that he is not planning to fill.

“We can’t project when we are going to have an increase (of juveniles at the center),” Johnson said, adding that the state averages about 15 juveniles at a time at the center, while juveniles from other counties make up about 35 percent of the population at any one time.

The state mandates that one guard must be present for every 12 juveniles in the daytime, while the requirement is one guard for 16 juveniles at night.

Johnson also said that the center used to charge a rate of $95 per bed per day, but had to reduce that rate to $70 per day to compete with other counties that also have juvenile detention facilities. He said there are five other counties with juvenile faculties that are also competing for DYS prisoners.

“The pool is not getting any bigger but the competition is increasing,” Ginger said.

“We need more juveniles in there,” King said. “If we keep going at the rate we’re going, we will be broke.”

Regarding the detention facilities tax, Robinson said that when it was originally proposed, the tax was a full cent and that was defeated by county voters.

A second, half-cent sales tax was approved to build the adult jail, with a quarter cent of that coming off the books when the bonds to build the jail were paid off.

“We should have kept that quarter-cent, “Robinson said. “We would have been in better shape.”

“We may not have gotten it (the tax) passed without the sunset clause,” King said.

Robinson said that when the state opened the new correctional facility at Malvern, it cut down on the revenue the county got from holding state prisoners until bed space at a prison was available.

“We used to hold people for several months but that has been reduced significantly now,” Robinson said.

Among the suggestions offered for consideration was the creation of a pay-for-stay fee and booking fee for the juvenile center comparable to the fee charged at the adult jail, the two facilities sharing personnel like guards, and talking to the state about getting more juveniles in the center here.

Justice of the Peace Mandy Alford suggested that it might be necessary to reduce staffing, but as Johnson did earlier, Woods said it would be difficult to eliminate positions at the adult jail because it is impossible to predict when the inmate population will increase and the additional guards will be required by state standards.

Robinson said the jail currently averages between 240 and 260 prisoners per day, and efforts are being made to keep the number down by allowing people assigned to the Clean Team to go home each day, rather than being locked up.

“If we kept them, we would be at capacity all the time,” Robinson said.

Currently, both the adult jail and juvenile detention center are operating on the same budgets they had for the first three months of 2012 as the quorum court last December put off a decision on those budgets for 2013.

Ginger proposed and the other members of the committee agreed to meet again in two weeks to continue the discussion.

“We need to come up with an action plan on what we’re going to do,” King said.