Jail budget approved by fiscal court on split vote

Posted April 7, 2021 at 12:00 pm

Clinton County Fiscal Court, during a special call meeting held last Wednesday morning, March 31, approved the fiscal year 2021-22 jail budget, but not before some concerns on some budget totals by court members were addressed.

The court eventually approved the $656,595 budget on a 4-2 vote prior to the brief, less than 15 minute meeting’s end.

When discussions on the FY jail budget began, magistrate Mickey Riddle asked “How do you spend $65,000 (over) in salaries?” and further stated it was “pushing $70,000 over budget for the coming year.”

Jailer Tracy Thurman said he felt it was a good budget overall, with Riddle replying “On everything but salaries.”

Magistrate Ray Marcum, who at the previous regular meeting in March, when the budget was first presented and eventually tabled due to lack of a motion to pass it, said it was his understanding that a Life Safety jail required two people on staff at all times.

However, jailer Thurman said a jail inspector had informed him that a Life Safety facility requires three staff members per shift.

Marcum then suggested that maybe local officials should sit down with officials from the Department of Corrections for guidance on the issue.

Marcum had stated during the March 17 regular meeting that the jail budget had gone over budget by about $80,000 two years in a row, but Thurman said last year the total was $40,000 over.

Riddle said the figure was $55,000 and said “We can’t afford to keep going the way we are.”

Magistrate Jerry Lowhorn, who was unable to attend last month’s regular meeting, replied that other departments, such as the ambulance service and EMS also went over budget nearly each fiscal year.

Several years ago, the state apparently began a push for regionalized detention facilities, and it was noted that Clinton County is only one of three left in the state that are still open as “Life Safety” jails.

Clinton County Judge/Executive Ricky Craig recommended checking with other Life Safety jails to see how they conduct business and handle their budgets, as well as agreeing with Marcum’s suggestion to meet with officials with the Department of Corrections to get their input.

Magistrate Terry Buster said that everyone amends their budget throughout the year, and suggested possibly looking at cutting back on the food service amount, which is one of the higher expenses in the budget, among others.

Jailer Thurman offered that last year the jail budget was actually cut by about $29,000 from the previous year.

Overtime was also discussed during the meeting, with Thurman saying the overtime at the jail was not excessive and it was hard finding people to work at the jail on a low salary.

When asked about the amount of overtime at the facility, Clinton County Treasurer Cindy Thrasher said 383 hours total had been put in over the past two years plus.

Judge Craig again suggested bringing someone in from the Department of Corrections to give advise on the matter and also check with the two other Life Safety jails. “We may have to make a decision in the future to close (the jail) or allow it to remain open. It’s a problem,” the judge said.

Magistrate Gary Ferguson said there were predictions that all county jails were expected to be closed in the future.

At one point in the 1990s, the local jail was, in fact, closed for some time. However, it eventually reopened and most residents were in favor of having their own local jail.

Costs associated with housing inmates at other facilities, as well as transportation and medical costs, was a large expense at the time the jail was closed.

Following the discussion, magistrate Lowhorn made a motion to approve the 2021-22 fiscal year jail budget as presented. Magistrate Ferguson seconded the motion, which passed with magistrates Buster and Johnny Russell also voting yes and magistrates Riddle and Marcum voting no.

Some of the larger items in the jail budget include: jailer salary, $46,100; payroll, $268,100; medical services, $44,100; food preparation, $30,000; social security, retirement and employee insurance (combined), $120,146.00.

In other business at last week’s special meeting, the court:

* Approved four cash transfers on separate votes totaling, $40,000, all from the Occupational Fund, including $20,000 to the jail checking account; $10,000 to the ambulance checking account; and $5,000 each to the 911 and general fund checking accounts.

* Voted to approve a payment of $14,354.85 on a John Deere tractor for the road department.

* Appointed Junior Cecil to replace Willard Johnson, for a three year term on the Tourism Board.

The fiscal court’s next regular meeting is next Thursday, April 15, at 5 p.m.