Boyle, Mercer counties pumping money into jail

February 19, 2004|Ann Harney

The cost of operating the Boyle County Detention Center grows each year, and while the Boyle and Mercer county judge-executives wish it were not so expensive, they see it as the price of doing business where jails are concerned.

During the last fiscal year, jail costs were $741,188 more than the facility took in, according to a financial report presented Friday to the Joint Jail Committee. At the end of last month, the jail was in the red $733,071 with five more months to go in this fiscal year.

Boyle County Judge-Executive Tony Wilder and Mercer County Judge-Executive John Trisler see the jail as a necessity and the cost of running it much better because the two counties share the expenses.

"We're not happy about it," Trisler said of the infusion of cash both counties have to make. "It's a significant expense."


The amount each county pays is based on the percentage of inmates from each county. The counties have had to add $100,000 every other month of this fiscal year to pay the bills at the jail. Mercer County's portion is 36 percent or $36,000 and Boyle County's is 64 percent or $64,000.

"We've been doing it," Trisler said about the $216,000 that Mercer County will likely spend this fiscal year for its portion of the jail bill. "We can afford it at this level."

The payments are approved by each county's fiscal court, and while some people in both counties believe they would be better off if their county had built its own jail, experiences in counties that have gone it alone prove the advantage of a two-county partnership, both judges say.

Trisler, who was not in office when the jail was built, believes the partnership was a good idea. "I do think operating the jail together is a positive story and the right thing to do," he said. "We're better off than if we had our own jail."

"We did it as a partnership, and they hold us up as a good model of two counties working together," Wilder said. Wilder was in office when the decision was made for Mercer and Boyle counties to build and operate the jail together. Kenneth Kirkland was the Mercer County judge-executive at the time.

"I think it was the best decision for Mercer County to partner with us and I think it's the best decision for us to partner with Mercer County," Wilder said.

Before the jail was built, Mercer County had to pay to send all of its inmates to other lockups because it had no jail.

"We're not spending a whole lot more than we were back then," Trisler said.

Both judges point to Clark County where the costs are having a much more serious impact on the county treasury than here. On the other hand, Casey County is doing well going it alone with its new jail.

"Casey County has it the best," Wilder said. "They have about 100 beds and only about 20 inmates from their county, so they can fill it with state prisoners."

Trisler and Wilder say the best way to get out of the red is to keep the jail full of state prisoners, but that isn't happening. The jail is full, but Boyle County Jailer Barry Harmon says the inmates filling it up are Boyle and Mercer county inmates.

The jail is certified to hold 174 inmates but last month averaged 193 a day. More prisoners mean more food, more uniforms, more bed linens, and, when the jail is more than full, the jail has to provide other sleeping arrangements, including mats and mattresses on the floor. Harmon said he recently ordered new mats.

Filling the jail with Boyle and Mercer inmates does not add anything to the jail's treasury. However, Harmon said the Boyle County Detention Center is not unlike other jails across the state.

"Everybody's full," Harmon said Friday. He gets calls frequently from other county jails asking if he can take some of their inmates. At least for last month, the answer has been no.

The Joint Jail Committee is made up of the judge-executives and county attorneys from both Boyle and Mercer and the Boyle County jailer, all of whom vote on decisions. The two county treasurers are non-voting members.

Trisler says the best way to fight dropping revenue is to do what the jail committee members are doing: lobbying the state for help while at the same time running the jail as efficiently as possible. One of the largest expenses at the jail is medical treatment for inmates, and the committee is seeking ways to reduce those costs.

Taxpayers are ultimately footing the bill for all jail operations, and while the drain on the treasuries is significant, both judges say it is a necessity they cannot avoid. "You can't walk away from that responsibility," Trisler said. "We're trying to make the best of a difficult situation."

And Wilder said, "The average citizen is not aware of the cost of running a jail, but they expect us to take care of it."

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