County cuts jail charges for cities

January 23, 2009
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While a consultant told Kent County officials this week that they don’t have the funds to build a regional jail with two other counties and that their inmate population will rise, county commissioners unanimously reduced the revenue the county receives from five cities that pay the county to house their offenders at the lock-up.

“The jail population will continue to grow. You’re at your functional capacity,” said Rod Miller of CRS Inc., which did a feasibility study for Kent, Allegan and Kalamazoo counties on the possibility of creating a regional lock-up.

“Operating your jail system is expensive and it’s not going to get better,” added Miller.

The reduction amounts to a 25 percent discount on two fees for Grand Rapids, Walker, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grandville, and a comparable budget increase for the county.

The per-diem housing fee the cities pay drops from $47.80 to $35.85, while the one-time arrest-processing charge falls from $20.80 to $15.06.

“I’m very happy that we were able to make an agreement with the mayors,” said County Commissioner Art Tanis.

The county has repeatedly said it costs roughly $75 a day to house an inmate at the jail. County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio estimated the reduction given to the cities will cost the county about $600,000 a year. Those dollars are expected to be replaced by shifting the taxes other municipalities pay the county to the corrections budget, but that move will still leave the county with a $600,000 hole elsewhere.

“I think the county made a huge concession here,” said County Commissioner Thomas Antor.

The Kent County Sheriff’s Department reported the six core cities sent two-thirds of all bookings to the jail in 2007, when 29,034 arrestees were booked. The cities’ per-diem payments amounted to 7 percent of the correctional facility’s budget that year. 

“If our current millage isn’t enough to fund our jail, we have to look at other areas,” said Commissioner Stan Ponstein.

The corrections millage isn’t enough. The millage is worth about $17 million a year to the county and it covers about 45 percent of the correctional department’s $38 million budget. Another 45 percent comes from the county’s general operating fund, which was projected last fall to end this year with a $2 million deficit.

Miller told commissioners they should put aside the idea of building a regional jail with the other counties. He said the county would need a new revenue source to do that, but the current economy isn’t favorable to ask voters to approve a new millage.

“That avenue is just not open for you,” he said.

The county, though, does plan to go to the bond market later this year in hopes of raising $27 million to make improvements to the jail and the juvenile detention center. A major portion of the work would replace about 500 outdated beds at the jail. But Miller suggested the county needs to do more.

“We’re urging you to do another Master Plan as you did 20 years ago,” said Miller. “If you can find a way to buy more beds in this current round of construction, you should do that.”

Delabbio said a few weeks ago that he hopes the economic stimulus package coming from the federal government will include funds the county can use on the jail construction project.

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