01/07/09 — Duplin to cut costs to pay for inmates

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Duplin to cut costs to pay for inmates

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on January 7, 2009 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- It will likely be at least another week before anybody knows how many Duplin government employees will lose their jobs and what public services will have to be cut in order to pay for the county's growing jail population.

The problem, Duplin County Sheriff Blake Wallace told county commissioners Monday, is that the jail can only hold 115 inmates legally. As of this morning, however, there were 138 in custody -- 22 of whom were being held outside the county.

And that's the issue commissioners will look to address on Monday, Jan. 12, after meeting with department heads to identify where budget cuts can be made in order to free up money to pay those surrounding counties.

Commissioners voted unanimously to borrow $72,000 from reserves to pay bills that are currently due to Sampson and Pamlico counties for housing inmates. They plan to repay that money, though, after they meet with the department heads Monday at 2 p.m.

If the money is replaced, county officials say it will be the first time in memory that the county has replaced money taken from reserves.

County Commissioner David Fussell said the county has already dipped into the reserves to get several million dollars.

And the $72,000 is just for bills currently sitting on County Manager Mike Aldridge's desk. Wallace told commissioners it's going to cost $240,000 to pay for housing inmates in other counties through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends in June.

"It's going to be a continuing thing. We need to address this as soon as we can," Wallace said. "The number that has to be sent to other counties could be 20 today and 30 tomorrow."

If something is not done about the jail overcrowding, Fussell said, the county is looking at having to pay other counties $500,000 a year to house inmates.

"That's a two-cent tax increase -- just to house inmates," Fussell said.

Fussell moved to have Aldridge cut $240,000 out of the current budget to pay for housing the inmates out of the county for the rest of the year. Commissioner Zettie Williams gave the second "just for discussion."

Aldridge told the board it's going to come down to cutting people and services, and he doesn't want to carry that burden alone.

"I would rather have your input before I drop the hammer. I don't want to go out on a limb without your support," he said.

An amendment offered by Commissioner Harold Raynor to support the county manager in his choices of where to cut expenses failed in a tie vote. Commissioner Chairman Cary Turner, Commissioner Harold Raynor and Ms. Williams voted to support Aldridge's decision. Those who voted not to were Commissioner Reginald Wells, Commissioner Frances Parks and Fussell.

Wells said he wanted the department heads to buy into any decision that is made about where to make the cuts.

"I want the input. We need a team effort. We do a lot of force-feeding with the public and with our employees.... Our problem is we just tell people to do things and don't influence them," Wells said.

Fussell's original motion to have Aldridge find $240,000 worth of cuts to pay for housing inmates outside the county for the rest of the year failed in a one-to-five vote. Fussell was the only commissioner to vote "yes."

Wells then moved to defer the matter until after the meeting with the department heads. Ms. Parks gave the second. The motion passed four-to-two with commissioners Fussell and Williams dissenting.

Ms. Williams then moved to take the money out of reserves and pay the bills to Sampson and Pamlico right away and then pay back the money after the meeting with the department heads. Raynor gave the second. The vote was unanimous.