Boyle and Mercer continue jail cost ratio discussion

Published 7:48 am Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Boyle and Mercer counties are continuing to discuss whether the current interlocal agreement that funds their jail is out-of-balance in favor of Boyle County.

At last week’s Joint Jail Committee meeting, numbers from Boyle County Treasurer Mary Conley brought the possible gap more into focus, in the vicinity of $100,000.

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Mercer officials have been complaining for months that the amount they pay to operate the Boyle County Detention Center doesn’t match up with how much Mercer County uses the facility. The complaint stems from how the costs are split up via the interlocal agreement, which has been around for close to two decades.

That agreement states each county will pay for a portion of the jail budget equivalent to the percentage of inmates it contributes. For example, if Mercer County inmates made up 40 percent of the population over the course of a year, Mercer would pay for 40 percent of the jail’s costs in the next year.

However, the agreement also spells out a minimum “floor” for Mercer — it can’t pay less than 35 percent of the costs, even if it has fewer than 35 percent of the inmates.

Mercer’s inmate percentage for the 2016-17 fiscal year was 29 percent, according to Conley’s numbers presented Friday. The percentage has been below 35 percent for several years running, according to Mercer County officials.

Boyle officials have said in discussions about the ratio that they pay for some jail expenses that Mercer never sees, which in theory shifts the balance back toward even.

At Friday’s meeting, Conley had her most recent tally of those expenses — $34,323.55. She said that amount was figured using logs of time spent by herself, Boyle Judge-Executive Harold McKinney, Boyle Information Technology Director Bill Nichols and a Boyle payroll officer on jail duties.

However, the difference between what Mercer paid last year — $712,749.49 — and what it would have paid at the 29-percent level — $570,199.08 — is more than $142,000, according to Conley’s figures.

After subtracting the estimated costs for Boyle, that still leaves a difference of more than $108,000.

“That’s a substantial difference, I will say for conversation purposes,” Conley said.

Conley said a recent report on the jail’s condition from the National Institute of Corrections states the need for substantial amounts of maintenance and repairs at the jail.

“I don’t know where that maintenance is going to come from,” she said. “If it’s going to be hired maintenance (or something else) … at one point in time our road department did a lot of work within the confines of the jail.”

In theory, if Boyle County handled the necessary maintenance outside of the jail budget, that could further reduce the discrepancy.

Mercer County Attorney Ted Dean asked Conley to come up with a similar cost estimate for a jail deputy who regularly takes Boyle County prisoners to court, waits for them to be done, then transports them back. In theory, that expense could be considered a Boyle-County-exclusive expense, but currently comes out of the joint jail fund, which would increase the discrepancy.

McKinney said the Joint Jail Committee didn’t need to take any action on the numbers presented by Conley; it would be up to Mercer County to decide what they want to do.

Officials have said previously that Mercer County plans on making a proposal to Boyle County revamping the ratio in the interlocal agreement.

Mercer County Judge-Executive Milward Dedman thanked Conley Friday for assembling the numbers and said he would take them back to the Mercer County magistrates so they could consider what to do next.

It’s not known what Boyle County might do with a proposed revision from Mercer County. Boyle County Magistrate Phil Sammons has suggested on multiple occasions that Mercer is getting a “good deal” and would pay a lot more to use another jail if Boyle were to stop housing Mercer inmates.