County Sets Jail Date

May 28, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — As expected, county commissioners set Aug. 5 as the date the corrections and detention millage will appear on the ballot. The date was targeted by the county’s millage renewal committee in a report the group submitted two years ago.

But more recently, at least four commissioners expressed their concerns that a per-diem charge dispute the county has with five cities may need to be resolved before election day.

“Something should be done with the per-diem charge in relation to the cities,” said Commissioner Harold Voorhees last week.

Commissioner Art Tanis said last week he held the same concern. Commissioners Brandon Dillon and Carol Hennessy voiced similar apprehensions the previous week.

“But putting it on the ballot is the right step,” said Dillon.

The cities of Grandville, Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Walker and Wyoming pay the county $47.80 a day to house the individuals the cities arrest, along with a one-time intake charge of $20.08 for each. Some city administrators have publicly said the charges are excessive.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell said he felt his city shouldn’t have to pay the county to house its arrestees because the corrections millage is a countywide levy and the property-tax add-on should cover the per-diem charge.

But County Chairman Roger Morgan, who is holding talks with administrators about the fees, said the millage only covers 43 percent of the jail’s annual $37 million budget and the county can’t afford to pick up the room-and-board tab for all the cities’ arrestees.

“I really don’t want to negotiate with the cities in public. I hope to hear back from them shortly. It’s hard to negotiate with your counterparts in the cities when they only say they don’t want a charge,” Morgan said to county Finance Committee members last week.

“We’ve made an offer to them that doesn’t have a per-diem charge and that’s all I will say about that,” he added.

“I think we’ve been fair in extending a proposal to the cities, but we haven’t heard back,” said Commissioner Paul Mayhue.

State law doesn’t require the county to accept the cities’ arrestees.

The ballot measure is a 20-year renewal of the current .7893 mills. The current millage expires at the end of 2009. A “yes” vote would give the county $17.6 million in revenue for 2011, money Kent will use to help build two new jail pods and add 363 beds.

“Delaying the millage renewal vote will likely delay the construction process, increasing the risk for infrastructure failure,” said Daryl Delabbio, county administrator and controller.

“Funding for design and engineering can be funded from the Correction and Detention Millage Fund and reimbursed from the bond issue for the project,” he added.

Delabbio said last November that if voters don’t renew the millage, about $17 million will have to be cut from the general operating budget, a fund that pays for most of the services the county provides.

Eleven municipalities in the county will also lose more than $400,000 in revenue if voters reject the renewal request. Those cities and townships have 17 tax-capturing entities that take a fiscal bite from the corrections levy each year. Grand Rapids stands to lose the most as the city has four entities that capture a portion of property taxes and millages, and use that revenue to make improvements in districts like downtown.

Commissioner David Morren said the proposal needs to get on the ballot sooner rather than later to give the county enough time to plan the jail’s infrastructure and operations.

“If the voters are not interested in renewing this, we should know now,” he said.

An extensive report filed by the corrections millage committee in 2006 said the county had to add 272 beds by 2010, 920 more by 2015, and another 484 by 2020 to keep pace with the jail’s projected inmate population. Those numbers total 1,676 new beds over a 10-year period. The jail currently has about 1,300 beds, the number it had when the report was filed.

The report also noted that it costs $80.97 a day to house an inmate at the jail and that the jail’s population has increased by an average of 4 percent each year from 1969.

The committee also reported that the county had 32 alternative programs in place in 2005 to cut down on incarcerations and to counter overcrowding conditions at the jail. Those programs collectively freed up 604 beds that year that would otherwise have been occupied, and helped to avert overcrowded situations 10 times in 2004 and 8 times in 2005.

“Our county has done an amazing job with alternative programs and diversions,” said Commissioner Harold Mast last week. “We are far ahead of other counties.”

Voters first approved the corrections millage in 1990. Renewing it would not raise taxes for property owners.

In addition to setting the millage’s renewal date, commissioners also authorized a property-tax rate of 4.28 mills for the county’s general operating fund.

“This is our lifeblood,” said County Vice Chairman Richard Vander Molen.

Property-tax bills will be mailed on July 1.

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