02/07/11 — County wants more local money for Day Reporting Center

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County wants more local money for Day Reporting Center

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 7, 2011 1:46 PM

Additional employees and salary increases for the most part will once again be absent as the county begins work on its budget for fiscal year 2011-12.

In rare cases where additional staff is needed, like at the Day Reporting Center, the county still will have to justify why personnel are needed and then track the savings, County Manager Lee Smith said.

Then, if it does not pay out, those people will have to be removed, he said.

Smith wants to concentrate on the Day Reporting Center -- an area that he said holds a real potential for savings.

Smith said that new jail liaison Jennifer Heath was doing an excellent job and that cooperation was excellent between judges, district attorney's office, Day Reporting Center and Sheriff's Office, which was helping control the size of the jail population.

The new video arraignment system at the county courthouse is working well, too, he said.

"We have some 40 GPS machines (to monitor people on pre-trial release)," he said. "I want to add more machines, but that is going to mean adding people, and that is going to mean people are going to say, 'they are adding government.'"

But if those additional county employees and GPS machines keep people out of jail, who are not a flight risk or threat to the public, then the county saves money and allows offenders to continue to work, Smith said.

"I would like to add 100 machines," Smith said. "I will have to add $100,000 to $200,000 to the budget to do all of these things, and it will require three plus people to do it because you have to monitor these people 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"But I do it for $10 a day per person versus $50. I save $40 per person per day. My goal is to get 125 people on the program at all times."

The $50 is the estimated daily cost to house an inmate in the county jail, he said.

Based on 120 people in the system at all times, the expanded monitoring would cost the county $438,000 annually. Using 120 and a cost of $56 per day, the amount Smith thinks is closer to the actual cost of incarcerating an offender, it would cost the county almost $2.5 million.

"We are saving almost $2 million," he said. "That is a direct savings. That is also keeping me from having to build a new jail. That is keeping my capital costs down $70 million. I might be able to put that off a while until we come up with a better concept (for a jail)."

Smith said he had looked at other counties who had such programs and those had been successful.

It would preserve the jail, keep the numbers down, and when the county finally has to build a jail, it could be 350 beds instead of 500 thereby saving millions in operations and capital, Smith said.

Smith expects that the county will take another funding hit from the state on the Day Reporting Center, but he isn't sure by how much.

The local program repays more than five times the $100,000 investment already, he said.

Smith thinks funding will go away within three years. When it does, he said he will recommend that the county commissioners pick it up in the budget because it pays such dividends.