Oversights mean Mercer owes additional $77,000 for jail budget

Published 9:14 am Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Mercer County’s portion of the cost to operate the Boyle County Detention Center is bigger than officials previously budgeted for.

According to officials at last week’s Boyle-Mercer Joint Jail Committee meeting, Mercer needs to cover an additional $77,000 because of a pair of oversights, according to Boyle County Treasurer Mary Conley:

• When the jail’s new medical contract was approved this year, it cost $120,000 more than the previous contract, but Mercer’s budget was never revised to reflect its portion ($42,000).

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• Boyle County Fiscal Court made a transfer to the joint jail budget of $65,000 in July that was never matched with a proportional transfer of $35,000 by Mercer County.

Conley said she takes “full responsibility” for failing to bring the increased health care costs to Mercer County’s attention.

“When we approved the medical contract … I failed to inform the fiscal court that we needed to adjust that line item up,” Conley said. “But I did it anyway and it was properly advertised … in essence, it was all done legally, except I didn’t update it with Mercer County and I apologize.”

“It’s OK,” Mercer Treasurer Sandy Sanders responded.

“Does that mean you’re going to cover the difference?” Mercer County Attorney Ted Dean joked.

Conley said the other $35,000 needed from Mercer was discovered when she was balancing the joint jail account and discovered a payment from Boyle County that had no matching payment from Mercer County.

Boyle and Mercer currently split most of the costs for operating the jail 65 percent and 35 percent. So because Boyle County transferred $65,000 to the joint jail account, Mercer needs to transfer $35,000 to keep things square, Conley said.

“I should have called you and said, ‘I need money,’ and I didn’t,” Conley said. “In the hectic life that we all live, I failed to make that phone call, gave it to the finance officer to pay and it just got lost in a file and never to be retrieved again … until I decided to reconcile.”

Conley said “we will work through” the issue with Mercer’s cash flow in mind so it doesn’t create problems.

Sanders said she already “anticipated a heavier December” in terms of jail costs; Mercer County Judge-Executive Milward Dedman said “we’re fine.”

Boyle and Mercer counties are currently in the middle of negotiations concerning the cost ratio used to determine how much each county pays. The ratio, which has been in place since the counties partnered on the jail more than 20 years ago, states that each county will pay a percentage of the jail costs based on what percentage of the inmates come from that county.

However, there’s a floor for Mercer County — the current agreement states it will pay no less than 35 percent of the costs, even if its percentage of inmates is lower.

Dedman said earlier this year, that Mercer is making up around 29 percent of the jail’s inmates and has been below 35 percent for several years running.

The ratio was debated briefly at Friday’s meeting, as officials discussed issues such as fuel costs for the transport of Boyle inmates coming out of the joint jail budget, while Mercer has a standalone budget out of which it pays its own fuel costs.

Eventually, Mercer County is expected to submit a proposal for a revised agreement to Boyle County.

On a positive financial note, Conley said the counties can likely cover some of the costs for jail consulting company Brandstetter Carroll using leftover funds previously budgeted to pay for the jail’s new intensive outpatient (IOP) program run by the Shepherd’s House.

The counties budgeted enough money to pay for Shepherd’s House to monitor and counsel up to 60 former inmates a month this year, but lower attendance numbers means even if the program expands to 60 participants for the rest of the fiscal year, the counties will still have around $40,000 leftover, Conley said.

The counties had budgeted $50,000 to hire a consultant who could figure out how to lower the jail population and rein in costs, but Brandstetter Carroll’s fee is $75,000. The Joint Jail Committee voted unanimously to recommend transferring $25,000 from the leftover Shepherd’s House funds to the consulting budget, in order to fully cover the cost.

In other business, the Joint Jail Committee approved a “scope of service” agreement with Brandstetter Carroll. The scope of services document spells out exactly what Brandstetter Carroll will provide to the counties, officials said.

The first meeting of the new Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which Brandstetter Carroll will be working with on developing jail improvements, was set for 12 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Boyle County Courthouse. The next Joint Jail Committee meeting was set for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 12 in the same location.