"I'm afraid we've got a real train wreck coming towards us." -- Joe Dierdorf, County Auditor
"We all know that from day one, they told us and told us and told us that you can fill that place as soon as you open it.That hasn't happened." -- County Councilman Mike McCullough
"If we had opened the jail back in September, we may have been OK." -- Sheriff Mike Heaton
By ANDY MCCAMMON
Some officials fear Clay County is on the verge of a budget crisis, and empty cells at the new Justice Center are to blame.
Construction delays that pushed back the opening of the new facility also interfered with the process of bringing state and federal inmates -- along with state and federal dollars -- into the county, according to Sheriff Mike Heaton. Revenue from housing state and federal prisoners in the new jail was expected to account for a significant proportion of the county's miscellaneous income in 2006, but returns have been disappointing thus far.
As of June 1, the county had generated $1,524,420 in miscellaneous income, just 42 percent of the $3,616,348 needed to support the county's 2006 budget.
According to Auditor Joe Dierdorf, early projections indicated the county could generate about $500,000 housing prisoners in 2006. The county's final budget depended on $600,000 in inmate-housing revenues.
To date, the housing of out-of-county inmates has produced just $200, Dierdorf said.
If those numbers don't improve, the county may be forced to contend with a deficit of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"I'm afraid we've got a real train wreck coming towards us," Dierdorf said.
Councilman Mike McCullough said early predictions from state and federal officials of the demand for jail space have not come true.
"We all know that from day one, they told us and told us and told us that you can fill that place as soon as you open it," he said. "That hasn't happened."
"If we had opened the jail back in September, we may have been OK," Heaton said.
But the year isn't over yet, he added. An influx of prisoners between now and the end of the year could erase the shortfall.
Officials will continue to monitor the situation and hope for improvement, Dierdorf said.
"We're still operating until such time as we run out of money," he said.