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Boarding inmates saves money

Based on five possible scenarios, the costliest way to operate Hubbard County's jail is to keep the population at 40 inmates. The more prisoners the county boards for other counties, the better the budget looks, said sheriff Gary Mills. County co...

Based on five possible scenarios, the costliest way to operate Hubbard County's jail is to keep the population at 40 inmates.

The more prisoners the county boards for other counties, the better the budget looks, said sheriff Gary Mills.

County commissioners have balked at staffing the jail, suggesting it might be more cost efficient to keep inmates at a minimum by boarding female inmates elsewhere and no longer taking in inmates from other counties.

The scenarios show otherwise.

Through August (67 percent of the budget year), revenue for the jail is 93 percent of what was budgeted and not all bills to other counties are paid yet. By year's end, Mills estimates revenue from board of out-of-county prisoners will be $250,000 to $270,000, exceeding the $215,000 budget.

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Expenses through August are 60 percent 67 percent through the year.

With 40 inmates in 2008, the first scenario suggests a balanced budget of roughly $1.3 million.

Expenses include $8.46 per inmate per day for meals, board of five females at $100,000 and transport expenses of more than $2,500. Mills explains it is necessary to transport an inmate for court appearances an average of five times.

In fact, he said, the rising cost of wages and fuel for transporting prisoners was one reason commissioners originally decided to build a new jail and to build in Park Rapids rather than partner with other counties in a regional facility.

The second scenario for 2008 shows 60 inmates, with 20 boarded at $55 a day, generating more than $400,000 a day. Inmates also purchase phone cards and the jail would collect about $2,000 in added revenue, an average of $8 per inmate per month.

At the same time, meal costs go down to $7.09 per inmate per day based on the contract with A'viand. Additional wages are estimated at $250,000 for four positions. Medical costs remain the same because the other counties pay them.

With 20 out-of-county inmates and no need to board female prisoners elsewhere, the total expenses are about $1.5 million, offset by revenue of more than $410,000, saving taxpayers more than $226,000.

With 30 out-of-county inmates, the picture looks even better. No more staff would be needed than with 20. Meals and laundry would cost slightly more, but revenue from boarding inmates from other counties would be more than $600,000.

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Total expenses would be about $25,000 more but still taxpayers would save more than $400,000.

Scenarios for 40 and 50 out-of-county inmates show greater savings even though more staff would be needed. Meal costs drop to $6.54 per inmate per day and laundry expense goes up slightly.

With half of the jail's population comprised of out-of-county inmates, the budget shows the county would save about $470,000. With 50 out-of-county inmates, the budget shows savings of more than $580,000.

The analysis shows the comment that the more inmates the county houses, the more it costs isn't accurate, Mills said.

The county has turned down other counties' requests to board inmates here, Mills said, but by "word of mouth" has agreements with Becker, Cass, Clay, Douglas, Polk and Wadena counties.

"Fifty (out-of-county) inmates is a possibility," Mills said, explaining the Law Enforcement Center hasn't advertised but has been contacted by a company that finds beds for other states' county inmates. It's all done by contract, Mills said. Other states' facilities, especially those in the east.

"They're saturated and they're heading west from other states, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio," he said.

"If we wanted to go to 50, we could, but we're not planning on it," added chief deputy Frank Homer. "What's realistic? Our game plan is to maintain 20 (boarded inmates). As we have more of our own, as was the case during the summer months, we can't take the others. So that's why it's hard."

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The scenarios don't include costs for transporting juveniles. Since the new jail opened, Hubbard County can hold juveniles (14 and older) for 24 hours and that has saved money, Mills said.

The analysis will be discussed further at a county board work session scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16.

luannh@parkrapidsenterpise.com

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