Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

May 23, 2012

Boyd tables regional jail

CATLETTSBURG — The Northeast Regional Jail Authority plan has been tabled by the Boyd County Fiscal Court on Wednesday after information emerged this week that a contract held by Carter County to house federal inmates in its jail would be  voided if the courts approved the move.

Federal contracts for housing inmates are also now under a freeze, said Carter County Jailer R.W. Boggs and other state jailers.

Boggs said he was also told by federal officials it is unlikely a new regional entity would be able to negotiate a new contract quickly, if at all.

The federal contract is seen as a money-making lynch pin in the regional jail plan. Without that revenue, said Boggs, a merger could end up increasing the cost of jail operations for both counties instead of cutting expenses as the architects of the plan believe.

At Wednesday’s special meeting to discuss the issue, Boyd County Judge-Executive Bud Stevens said he was not aware the contract would be voided until that morning and therefore wanted to table the measure.

The Boyd County Fiscal Court voted unanimously to do so but Stevens’ admission came after considerable public comment in opposition to the regional jail.

More than 100 attendees of the special meeting filled the courtroom beyond capacity with many individuals relegated to the hallway to listen.

At least two dozen jailers from across Kentucky traveled to Boyd County to show support of Boggs and Boyd Jailer Joe Burchett and express their concerns.

Stevens said after the meeting he had spoken to Carter County Judge-Executive Charles Wallace prior to the meeting and that he had not gotten that information either.

Wallace did not return calls seeking comment on Wednesday.

However, on Monday, Boggs and Carter County Attorney Patrick Flannery said publicly Loren Carl, the U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of Kentucky, told them the formation of the regional jail would void Carter’s contract with the federal government to house its inmates.

Carl did not return phone calls seeking confirmation of his comments on Monday or Tuesday.  

Carter County projected that agreement would garner $825,000 in revenue for the regional jail.  The information was published in Tuesday’s edition of The Independent.  

‘Grave’ issues

At Wednesday’s special meeting, Boggs again shared the information, telling those present, “Together we’re a failed entity before we start because Carter County will lose its federal contract.”

Boggs also said he believes there are “grave misrepresentations” of revenues in the regional jail’s proposed budget.

In addition to the potential loss of revenue from the federal inmates, Boggs said the budget did not take into account an at least 20 percent cut in the $835,000 of projected revenues for housing state prisons due to HB 463. He said another $350,000 in revenue for housing prisoners from other counties was an all-out falsehood.

“We do not have other county contracts,” said Boggs.

When all those revenue issues are taken into account, he said, the projected $1.5 million in joint savings — $1 million for Boyd and $500,000 for Carter County — is simply not there. “This venture becomes a $700,000 loss right away,” Boggs said. “Carter County is only a shiny apple with its federal contract. It’s been told by the chief marshal we will not get. Combined we sink.”

Boggs also cautioned the county against the advice of jail consultant Joey Stanton, who was not present at the meeting. He said Stanton has “gotten in trouble” in other counties for asking to become a paid administrator of a regional jail entity, like the one being proposed in Boyd and Carter counties and for promising federal inmate contracts. Boggs’ remarks were interrupted by Stevens, who told him to “wrap it up.”   

The Boyd Fiscal Court hired Stanton, a former Grayson County jailer, last May for a $2,000 a month fee, to consult with it on jail and budgetary issues.

Stevens denied insinuations the regional jail proposal is motivated by anything other than finances. “We have a major problem,” he said, stating the Boyd jail’s annual budget is $3.4 million and is the county’s “biggest liability.”

“Last year we took out $900,000 of our budget and, at that time, we never missed a lick so that shows there was waste or something going on,” he said.

Other jailer input

Other than Boggs, several other jailers spoke out at the meeting including Oldham County Jailer Mike Simpson, the president of the Kentucky Jailers Association.

He reiterated much of Bogg’s points, but also urged the fiscal court not to give up local control of its jail and to change their mindset from one of using the jail to make a profit to one based in the jail being a service the county provides, which comes at a price.

“You are never going to get out of the jail business,” he said.

He also cited an independent study completed by the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky on the best way to reduce local jails costs. The study, he said, was completed five years ago and studied the potential of state takeover, regional jails and the status quo, where counties manage their own jails. It found, Simpson said, that the “most efficient, most effective, most economic way was to allow the jails to remain under local control.”

Simpson also shared several ways Oldham County is managing its costs through cooperation with other jails and county offices, including itemizing items used in the jail and elsewhere in county government and putting joint efforts into bulk purchasing. He also discussed reverse auctions where county’s cooperate in an interlocal agreement to put out items for bid in order to garner cost savings.

Longtime Rowan County Jailer Don Hall also spoke about his county’s experience.

“We were a regional jail by definition,” he said, explaining the jail once held inmates from Carter, Elliott, Morgan and Bath. Over the years, as Rowan County’s own population of inmates grew, he was able to house fewer and fewer inmates from other counties or the state, which in turn decreased the amount of revenue being brought into the jail. Today, he said, as soon as inmates are final sentenced, “I have to move them out. So we have no revenue stream.”

Burchett described a  similar situation in Boyd, which resulted in the loss of its ability to house federal prisoners in 2009. He said, at that time, his population of prisoners jumped above 360 inmates in his 220-bed facility. The U.S. Marshal Service requires federal inmates to have an assigned bed.

It is unclear what the fate of the Northeast Regional Jail Authority will be now that Boyd has tabled the issue.

Carter County is scheduled to have a special meeting on Tuesday at 10 a.m. to discuss the proposal.

In another twist, the Carter County Fiscal Court is also under scrutiny for an alleged open meetings violation stemming from its May 15 meeting, when it passed the first reading of an ordnance creating a Regional Jail Authority and an interlocal agreement to do so between itself and Boyd County.

Flannery has also asked Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway for an official opinion on the legality of having a regional jail without a “brick and mortar” building.

“There are all kinds of issues here,” said Flannery, adding, “I think it is important when you make a big decision like that, you really need to think it through and not rush through it.”

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.

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