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Financial realities faced by county council members

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Caught between the proverbial rock and hard place in discussion of the new county jail, members of the Clay County Council opted to perceive the glass as half full while wrangling with some tough financial realities.

Without revenue from housing Indiana Department of Corrections inmates, the Clay County Sheriff's Department will not be able to hire enough staff to run the new jail. But without enough jail staff, the county won't be able to run its new facility, the Council learned during its June meeting.

Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton approached the Council to request additional money from the County General Fund for part-time jail officers and full-time jail officers. The total request for eight full-time officers was $146,155 while the total request for four part-time officers was $42,960. The minimum number of employees required for operating the new facility is 18 full-time jail officers, a figure short of the architectural firm's estimate.

The county probably should have been working on its transition plan from the day of the groundbreaking, he continued. Employees will need three to four months of training before they're ready.

Council members questioned Heaton about the revenue from DOC inmates, who generate $35 each per day before considering the cost of food, water and other necessities per person.

"We're not clearing $35 a day," Councilman Mike McCullough said. "It's like gross profit versus net profit."

Meanwhile, Councilman Les Harding noted that without the proper number of employees trained in the required number of months prior to the jail's projected fall opening, the Council can't expect CCSD to be able to prepare the county for a smooth transition or subsequent operation. The Council also doesn't know the exact cost of day-to-day operations for the new structure.

"We have way more capacity than a county our size would normally," Councilman Larry Moss said, but urged caution in issuing outstanding warrants as room must be available for DOC inmates in order to generate revenue. "I don't want us to get too excited about doing that."

He said that a conversation with a DOC official about the availability of inmates to house.

"That particular day, they had 50 inmates who needed a home. I know they're out there."

But McCullough expressed his concern about the County General Fund being cut in half by the additional appropriations. He pointed out the funds are needed before the new jail even opens.

"I don't know if our County General Fund can support this," he said.

The design of the jail centers around a central control panel, which no jail officers have yet been trained to operate, Harding said.

But Moss urged fellow Council members to see the situation in a positive light by estimating the amount of potential revenue from only 20 DOC inmates at $35 apiece per day. The group also discussed securing advance payment from the DOC as a sort of start-up loan.

Moss moved to approve the appropriations, Councilman John Price seconded the motion, and the Council unanimously approved the decision.

Heaton also informed the group that Dave Boucher of the Davis County Sheriff's Department, Utah, will be assisting the county with transition training through Wednesday. His services are of no expense to the county, and Boucher delivered a presentation to Council members following adjournment of the regular meeting.

In other matters, the Council:

- Heard a report from Clay County Assessor Aron Royer, who requested reassessment funds to be used for employment in the Assessor's Office. A total of $12,250 for the remainder of the year will be paid to the Reassessment Deputy, which will be $21,000 as part of the salary ordinance for an entire year. The Council unanimously approved the additional appropriation.

- Appointed Wayne Jenkins to the Brazil Economic Development Commission after receiving a letter from Mayor Tom Arthur. The BEDC is organizing after the Clay County Economic Development Commission became defunct in an effort to continue to market the city and county to businesses and potential residents.

- Discussed conducting a work session to review figures prior to budget meetings for a more streamlined budgeting process.

- Transferred funds from beeper fees to unemployment compensation.

The Clay County Council regularly meets at 6 p.m. the first Monday of each month in the Commissioners Court at the Clay County Courthouse. Meetings are open to the public.

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