Crawford County justices of the peace came together Monday to discuss jail fees charged to cities by the county.
The Crawford County Quorum Court Technology and Facilities Committee held a study session at 5:30 p.m. Monday. The first topic of discussion was Crawford County Ordinance 2018-7, which was a uniform county incarceration fee ordinance that was pulled from consideration during the quorum court meeting in May.
County Judge Dennis Gilstrap said he requested it be pulled due to section two of the ordinance. This section states the cities would have the option to enter into a contract with the county judge to pay a negotiated annual fee for inmate housing. This structure shows a decrease in the amount of money spent per city, with the cities to pay their rate monthly. However, the ability to pay on a per prisoner per meal per day basis would have still been an option for cities that did not wish to enter into a contract under this ordinance.
“My concern was on the amount, that I had understood that there could be $70,000 less into the county budget, and then if you give the cities the option of which way to go, of course they were going to pick the option that helped them the most and then affected us in a negative manner with our budget, and for budget reasons, I had asked for it to be pulled and it was pulled,” Gilstrap said.
Committee Chairperson and District 13 JP Debbie Atwell said the county’s jail fee for the cities is on a $10 per meal basis, or a $30 daily fee.
Crawford County Sheriff Ron Brown talked about the jail fees charged to the cities by Crawford County, as well as changes in law that affect the way the county is currently doing business. He said the county did not house misdemeanants in the Crawford County Detention Center for many years. However, the opening of the new jail in 2017 gave the county room to house misdemeanants. The ordinance establishing the daily per meal rate for inmates from the cities was passed in 1993.
The county billed out and collected about $315,000 of jail fees from the cities in 2017. Brown said he talks to police chiefs in the county on a regular basis, and not only was this putting a hardship on the police chiefs because the fees kept going up and down, it was also putting a hardship on the sheriff’s office because it did not ever have a billing system.
Brown approached the chiefs of police about doing a contract. He also talked to a few of the JPs individually to see what they thought about it, as well as discussed the matter with Gilstrap. He and the chiefs of police agreed during a discussion on about 25 percent savings on their 2017 bill.
“That’s what we wanted the ordinance for … to enter into a contract, and then that would have been about, the judge said $70,000, had been about $79,000 less in 2018 on a contract based on 2017’s collections,” Brown said.
Brown also said there has been a lawsuit against the city of Blytheville in Mississippi County that dates back to 2012 or 2014 on who is responsible for an inmate. A ruling came down by the Arkansas Supreme Court in February that Brown said puts more emphasis on the county jail.
“When someone was booked into the jail on a misdemeanor crime, and let’s say they were sentenced 10 days, 30 days or one year, that city was responsible for that at $10 a meal, $30 a day.” Brown said. “Under this new ruling, once they’re sentenced, falls back on responsibility to the county.”
Brown said he has no way to determine what impact that is going to have on that anticipated revenue of $315,000. However, he promised the JPs it is going to be a 50 to 75 percent decrease.
“So we brought in $315,000 last year charging these cities,” Brown said. “At 50 percent, we’re talking $159,000 or somewhere in there, and if a 75 percent decrease, we’re looking at about $79,000. We’re here today to discuss maybe going into a contract with these cities to help recoup some of those costs.”
After discussion by the JPs, Brown said he would be more than happy to sit down and talk with the police chiefs in the county and their mayors, as well as Gilstrap, to get some numbers for contracts. This will be presented to the Crawford County Budget Committee at a later date.