Sammons: Mercer should ‘keep their mouths shut’ about jail costs

Published 8:36 am Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Boyle jailer agrees Mercer officials should ‘shut up’

A Boyle County magistrate blasted his counterparts in Mercer County Tuesday for wanting to pay less for the operation of the Boyle County Detention Center.

“I’m still concerned about our relationship with Mercer County on the jail. I didn’t like what they were saying about us before and some of the things that was going on,” Magistrate Phil Sammons said during magistrate comments at the end of Tuesday’s Boyle County Fiscal Court meeting. “… I think we’ve bent over backwards. The jailer’s here somewhere and I think he’ll agree with me that we would be better off if we didn’t have them.

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“My personal view is the fact that I hope they understand that — that we really don’t need them and we’d be better off without them. So don’t start complaining and bitching about it being higher and so on. They should be glad and keep their mouths shut. That’s the way I feel about it.”

Boyle and Mercer counties have shared the costs of operating the Boyle County Detention Center for around two decades. The counties operate under the original interlocal agreement they first set up in the 1990s, which dictates how much of the cost of the jail each county will bear.

Currently, Boyle pays 65 percent of the expenses, while Mercer pays 35 percent. That ratio is designed to be based on the percentage of prisoners each county has in the jail, but there’s a floor of 35 percent that prevents Mercer from paying any less.

Mercer’s percentage of inmates has been below 35 percent for years. Mercer County magistrates have said they want a new agreement that takes their smaller percentage into account.

In January, Mercer County magistrates voted to hire an attorney to look into what kinds of jail costs they are required to pay under the interlocal agreement, and whether they’re being charged for costs they shouldn’t be charged for.

Asked after the fiscal court meeting if he agreed with Sammons’ statements, Boyle County Jailer Barry Harmon said Mercer County officials should “shut up” and be happy with the deal they have. He said “they have the best deal in the state” for a county that doesn’t have its own jail, and suggested it was inappropriate that Mercer County had hired an attorney to examine jail costs.

Sammons has expressed dissatisfaction with Mercer County on multiple occasions before. In August, Sammons suggested Boyle County should tell Mercer County “you come and get your people, you do something else with them.”

A month earlier, during a joint meeting of the two counties to discuss jail costs in July, Sammons questioned how much it would cost Mercer County to build its own jail.

“Seems like you people ought to pay just a little more to not have to worry about any debt, not having to build a new jail? … I know you’re paying a little more than you should. I just wonder how much more you would pay in proportion if you had to build a new jail,” Sammons said at the time. “… If you don’t like what you’re paying, take them out and take them somewhere else.”

Others do not share Sammons’ perspective. Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney said after Tuesday’s meeting that Boyle does need Mercer County as a partner.

“We’ve had a good 20-year relationship and I will continue to say that we need to continue to be good partners with them,” McKinney said. “They’ve been good partners and we need to continue to be good partners.”