Sheriff asks board to increase jail fees
Several proposals, including a "pay to stay" charge, are being discussed to recover some of the costs of running Hubbard County's correctional center.
Sheriff Cory Aukes asked the board Wednesday for permission to raise fees for services that are burdening law enforcement personnel.
Among those are increases in booking fees and a daily "room charge" for inmates. In 2011, the jail is projected to run a $1.7 million deficit. Of those expenses, more than $1 million are for salaries for jail personnel.
Several other county jails are charging for overnight stays, Aukes said, up to $15 per day.
Hubbard County would impose a $10 per night room charge if the process is approved.
Booking fees would be raised from $10 to $15 under the proposal. Inmates would be billed the cost of both charges.
"We don't want to put a big financial burden on someone" in raising fees, jail administrator Sherri Klasen said.
The issue of jail fees opened the door for the board to consider raising other departmental fees. That would entail conducting a public hearing and adoption of a new fee schedule, something the board has balked at in the past.
Fees for county services were last raised in 2006.
"I have a hang-up about raising fees," board member Dick Devine said. "That's our job, to supply this information, do this work for taxpayers."
Devine said he has trouble making a profit off such endeavors, especially in a weakened economy.
Commissioner Kathy Grell agreed.
But Aukes said Hubbard County is one of the few not charging for jail space and its fees for civil process services lag behind other counties.
"They may be more difficult to collect than it's worth," Devine said of the fees inmates would bear.
"Do we turn 'em loose if they can't pay?" commissioner Cal Johannsen asked.
Aukes said under a state revenue recovery program, unpaid jail bills, like child support, would be collected by the state, which can seize income tax refunds and other assets if inmates don't pay up.
Commissioner Lyle Robinson said it could be an added deterrent for would-be lawbreakers that Hubbard County is an expensive place to commit a crime.
Civil service fees don't go to the jail. They are separate revenues for the Sheriff's Department.
The jail vacancy rate on the five-year-old facility has bothered commissioners and administrators as crime continues to drop.
Grell, who has pushed in the past for the county to proceed with its space plan renovation, suggested taking a look at the jail again to explore options to stop the bleeding.
The board appointed her and Johannsen to a committee that will look at those options, including whether the jail should house female inmates.
The jail has been a financial albatross since opening five years ago.
And Devine is not confident consulting the Department of Corrections for suggestions on how best to utilize the space is a wise move.
Klasen said proposals to move females inmates to other facilities could cost the county more in the long run, boarding them out of town ands constantly transporting them to court appearance.
The jail's three cellblocks require four personnel to staff them for each shift. Shutting down one cellblock won't change those numbers, Klasen said. The same number of jailers and dispatchers are required regardless of the number of inmates.
And if the facility takes high risk or staff-intensive inmates, those numbers could go up, Klasen said.
"We get staff-intensive inmates, ones with medical and mental health issues," she said. "Its not always the number but the type of inmates we have" that dictates staffing levels.
"Cutting staff means fewer backups" if they're needed, she said.
The board will solicit input from department heads as to which fees should be raised, and those increases must be justified.
Aukes said the civil process fees don't cover the constant attempts to execute service, the paperwork and mailing involved.
"There's not a thing wrong with recovering costs," Devine said. "We have to justify them."