County committee hands jail break to five cities

January 20, 2009
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Members of the Kent County Finance Committee gave the cities of Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Walker, Wyoming and Grandville a 25-percent reduction on the arrest-processing fee and the daily charge for housing their arrestees at the county jail.

Even though Tuesday's tally was unanimous, it was also a reluctant vote.

"We're negatively affecting our financial position. It's another impact to the bottom line of our budget," said Commissioner Harold Voorhees, a past mayor of Wyoming.

"Why shouldn't the cities pay that cost? I don't get it," said Commissioner Jim Talen.

County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio estimated the fees reduction would cost the county about $600,000 this fiscal year, a year that had the general operating fund losing $2 million before the cuts to the cities. That fund provides 45 percent of the jail's $38 million annual budget, while the per-diem charges comprise 7 percent of that budget.

The reduction would lower the daily housing charge to the cities from $47.80 to $35.85 and the one-time processing fee from $20.80 to $15.06.  Data from the Kent County Sheriff shows the core cities were responsible for 66 percent of the arrestees sent to the county jail in 2007 and the total bookings for that year were 29,034.

"I think you recognize this is an imperfect compromise.  The five cities are important partners for us," said Commissioner Dean Agee, also chairman of the Finance Committee.

The full board of commissioners will take up the issue on Thursday.

In a somewhat related matter, committee members waived the $10 fee the county collects for issuing birth certificates for inmates released from the jail. The idea behind the waiver is to cut down on recidivism as proving those who are reentering society with a birth certificate will make it easier for them to find work and a place to live if they have proper identification.

"This is a very inexpensive way to do this. We are looking at other counties to do this also," said Chief Circuit Court Judge Paul Sullivan. "(Getting ID) is not as easy as it used to be due to Homeland Security requirements."

"They need to know that the system is giving them a little extra push," said James Vaughn, county commissioner.

If the county waives the fee, it could relinquish up to $5,000 a year in revenue.

County commissioners will vote on the waiver issue next month.

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