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Taxpayers may pay $69,000 to house inmates

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Governor’s draft budget omits key closed county jail funding

By Meaghan Downs

Anderson County taxpayers may be on the hook for more than $69,000 in additional expenses to house its inmates and pay their emergency medical costs should the governor’s current budget pass.
Jailer Joani Clark said the $69,000 Anderson County usually receives in bail allotment funding is simply not there in the governor’s biennial budget, which is proposing a overall 5 percent cut to the Department of Corrections.
About $960,000 statewide has been cut from the draft budget for Kentucky counties with closed jails, Clark said, for those communities like Anderson who transport prisoners to a facility out of the county.
The $69,000 Anderson County usually receives in bail allotment funds helps pay for housing, meals, basic care and payment to Shelby County Detention Center for use of their facility, she said.
A $69,000 loss in funding is equivalent to losing 2,379 days or a little more than a month out of the year to house Anderson’s average daily number of inmates, according to Clark.
Anderson County pays $29 per inmate for an average of 60 inmates a month, she said.
And that housing money has to be paid one way or another, Clark told the Anderson County Fiscal Court during its work session last Tuesday night, whether that money comes from the state or local tax revenue.
“In a county our size, it’s big,” Clark said of the impact bail allotment funding has on the jail budget. “That’s another $69,000 the county will have to make up from somewhere if that money disappears.”
Governor Steve Beshear’s budget also omits language regarding catastrophic medical care for inmates, Clark said, or about $900,000 in state funding.
Catastrophic medical care is used for inmates who require emergency medical assistance for anything from inmates suffer heart attacks while incarcerated to medical expenses for pregnant women while they’re in custody, according to Clark.
“It only takes one inmate with some kind of problem to cost you 50-, 60-thousand dollars,” she said.
Catastrophic medical care hasn’t been needed this past year, she said, but the county has required it in the past.
In the last five years, three Anderson County inmates gave birth to children while in custody, Clark said. She estimated that without the catastrophic medical care for inmates, the county would have paid at least $15,000 for the female inmates’ care.
Inmate Timothy Branson, charged with the murder of his wife, required two surgeries for an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the temple in 2012, Clark said.
Out of pocket expenses for that kind of medical treatment and the 24-hour guard at the hospital would have been at least $150,000-200,000 for the county, if not more, she said.
The Jailers Association agreed last fiscal year to move money from its Local Corrections Assistance Fund to the Catastrophic Medical Fund to help balance the budget, Clark said, but that was not supposed to lead to no funding for subsequent budgets.
“They just took it away again last year without talking to anybody, so we’re not sure if that’s oversight or if they intended to do that,” Clark said.
Clark, who said she first learned of the proposed cuts for jails right after the governor presented his budget in January, petitioned the Senate Judiciary committee last Wednesday on behalf to the Kentucky Jailers Association to request restoring both funding streams.
Clark said the Senate Judiciary committee easily passed three other changes to House Bill 343 that the Jailers Association asked for, but restoring the bail allotment money and catastrophic medical funding may not go as smoothly in the coming weeks.
She said jailers across the state have been making phone calls and making appeals to their representatives about the remaining jail budget issues, and Clark said she’s spoken with both Sen. Julian Carroll as well as state Rep. Kim King.
Clark said she’ll need to compose a budget and get it approved by the fiscal court by April, which will likely be before the governor’s budget is passed by the General Assembly.
County Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway said the proposed $69,000 loss concerns him, as any loss of funding would.
“Anytime you lose that kind of money, it’s a concern,” he said.  
Conway said if the governor’s budget passes in its current form, the bail allotment funds, which the county has already received for this fiscal year, would have to come from the county’s capital outlay fund.
The judge-executive said he feels the budget is in good shape, with about $1.5 million in reserves, and that the county will make budget transfers to support jail expenses if necessary.
“We just have to research that, we do have quite a bit of reserves and put it in there, maybe trim some places out of the general fund that we can trim,” Conway said.
Conway said he’s also hopeful that the savings promised through House Bill 463, which makes use of citations rather than arrests for low-level misdemeanor offenders, will help reduce overall jail costs for the county.