Commissioners discuss inmate housing, reimbursement

File photo Tuesday, Curry County Commissioners discussed ways to recoup inmate housing costs along with other issues surrounding jail costs.

Sharna Johnson

Discussions among Curry County commissioners about the jail Tuesday centered on housing inmates out of county as well as options for getting reimbursed for inmate costs.

Reimbursements for housing state Department of Corrections and retired or disabled inmates have not been received by the jail for some time, county officials told the commission.

The county also has been missing out on reimbursements from the Social Security Administration since 2005, according to Assistant County Manager Connie Harrison.

Harrison said the program, which would pay $400 a month, moved to an electronic submission system via the Internet and the jail unknowingly continued mailing hard-copy reimbursement reports, which were never looked at.

There is no way to recoup the lost reimbursements because Social Security will only honor the last 90 days, she said, but “our report for February will be done and submitted.”

The issue of out-of-county housing costs also arose when County Manager Lance Pyle, said the county has been charged $12,000 under court order to house three inmates with the DoC for a month.

Pyle told commissioners the county was ordered by a district judge to move the inmates to DoC for their safety because the jail is not adequate to meet their needs.

Pyle did not identify the judge who issued the orders but said DoC is charging the county more than $130 per day for each inmate when local agreements with other counties cost as little as $35 per day.

“This is going to be quite costly to the county,” Commission Chairman Caleb Chandler said.

Chandler asked if there was any way to get a hearing with the judge that issued the order to discuss other options, but County Attorney Stephen Doerr said the judge is within his rights to issue the order.

Ironically, Doerr said, DoC has not been paying the county for “several” probation and parole violators held at the jail, the costs of which the state agency is responsible for reimbursing.

He said DoC has suffered budget cutbacks by the state and many counties are not being paid.

“They are supposed to reimburse every month and they haven’t been doing that,” he said. “They pay $4,000 a month on a $200,000 yearly bill.”

Doerr recommended the county look at offsetting the cost of housing the three inmates against the debt DoC owes them, but cautioned they make sure “that’s not something that’s going to turn around and hurt the county.”

In his report to commissioners, jail Administrator Keith Norwood said he has started sending inmates that don’t comply with the jail’s behavior expectations to out-of-county facilities.

“A lot of inmates want to stay here but if they’re not going to (follow the rules and behave) I’m not going to tolerate it… That’s what we have (to do) for now to maintain control,” he said.

“It seems like its costing more but in the long run I think it’s a savings (because of liability concerns).”

As of Feb. 23, there were 53 inmates being housed outside the county. Officials have said previously an average of 30 to 50 are housed elsewhere at any given time.

Pyle told commissioners he expects to have spent $430,000 in the near future and will exceed the jail’s budget, which means he will have to come to commissioners for an authorization to transfer money from county reserves.

County Commissioner Bobby Sandoval told commissioners he wanted them to study the ankle bracelet program again — which currently has four inmates participating — to work toward reducing the population housed in the jail.

In other business:

• Commissioners heard a presentation by Steve Reshetar on the Eastern New Mexico Youth Connection. Reshetar asked commissioners to consider creating a program encouraging county employees to volunteer for one hour a week toward youth programs as part of an effort to cut down on youth gang influence.

Commissioners lauded the effort and said they needed to explore the legality of having taxpayer-funded employees volunteering during work hours.

• Heard a proposal for building a county museum at the fairgrounds. Patsy Delk and Wilma Fulgham presented plans for a 3,000 square-foot metal building at a price range of $405,000 to $450,000 which would have a gift shop, children’s area and kitchen and would showcase the history of the county. Displays would range from Native American to modern day residents and would highlight the pioneer and agricultural endeavors of residents.

Acknowledging there is no money in the budget this year for the project, Fulgham suggested aiming for the fall of 2012.

• Heard a presentation from Christopher Lopez on the Retired Senior Volunteer and Foster Grandparent Programs. Lopez said the programs are in danger of losing federal funding in coming days and he is searching for alternative ways to continue them. Lopez said the programs are continuing to recruit and work with volunteers while he looks for money to support the program. “We refuse to absolutely stop doing this,” he said.

• Approved Pyle to begin renegotiating a lease contract with the IRS for office space at the county’s Gidding Street facility. Pyle said the IRS has asked for a lease that would cover 10 years but could be terminated after one. The existing lease runs through 2014.

Pyle also advised commissioners the IRS has not paid their rent since July and is $5,197 in arrears with the county, but have promised payment is pending.

• Pyle advised commissioners a Citizens’ Committee meeting has been scheduled for 10 a.m. March 19 in the North Annex of the Clovis-Carver Library. Representatives from the New Mexico Association of Counties will present a 2008 assessment they conducted of the jail after the escape of eight violent inmates. They will also discuss changes made and renovations done following the assessment as well as liability issues faced by the facility.

Pyle said he is also arranging for committees to meet with a firm that builds courthouses and Kevin Powers, a finance and bond advisor for the county who will discuss revenue and sources of money for solving jail and courthouse issues.

• Approved a request from the jail to purchase a new camera system for the juvenile detention center. County IT Director Aaron Jones said the $40,000 system would be a complete surveillance overhaul at the facility. The money will pay for 12 cameras to replace an 11 camera system purchased in 1984.

The system will be paid for from $59,000 in revenue the juvenile center has raised from housing out-of-county inmates.

Norwood recommended making the JDC upgrade a priority because, even though the adult jail needs a $70,000 upgrade to its camera system, there is no money in the budget.

• Was advised by Norwood the kitchen equipment at the jail is “falling apart” and his staff is working to get specifications of what is needed for commissioners to review. Norwood said the issue has contributed to problems with a food service contractor that oversees meals at the jail.