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Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Jail may open doors to other counties

Sheriff proposes plan to rent out space, increase revenue

By Shelley Grieshop
CELINA - Cell space at the new Mercer County Adult Detention Center soon may be rented to out-of-county inmates as a means to boost revenue.
Sheriff Jeff Grey approached county commissioners Thursday with the idea. No formal action was taken, but commissioners agreed to the venture and asked Grey to provide further information.
The new jail along state Route 29 has 110 beds and now averages 27 local inmates daily. The number of inmates is expected to climb as deputies pursue some of the county's 1,500 outstanding warrants, but there still will be space to rent, Grey said. Warrants were not pursued in the past due to the old jail not having enough room.
A majority of Thursday's discussion in the commissioner's office focused on the amount to charge other counties to house their prisoners and how to divvy up the income.
"I'd like to have an agreement between us where it (money) goes," Grey told commissioners.
At a proposed rental rate (by Grey) of $40 to $45 per day, annual revenue could reach approximately $400,000 for 25 out-of-county inmates.
Although the sheriff's budget pays much of the jail's operating costs, including food for inmates, the county's general fund pays for utilities. Everyone at the meeting agreed the "rental revenue" should be split by a percentage based on the expenses incurred by each.
It was suggested that a small portion of the revenue be placed in an account designated for miscellaneous purchases, such as sheriff's cruisers or other equipment. The fund could help reduce the sheriff's annual appropriations, commissioners said.
Commissioner John Bruns asked Grey if he had an idea how he'd like to divide the extra cash.
"I've really wrestled with it," Grey responded.
The difficulty calculating
the split comes from the jail being open only one month. It's too early to accurately estimate expenses per prisoner, Grey said.
"This is new ground for us," he added.
Grey said he would more closely examine expenses and try to make a recommendation.
It was suggested a one-year agreement or contract be drawn up between the commissioners and Grey, with the percentages reviewed annually. Both sides also liked the idea of wording the contract so it can be re-evaluated when a new sheriff or commissioners are elected.
It wasn't long ago that Mercer County was paying other counties to incarcerate its prisoners. The former jail across from the courthouse was built in 1939 and held 15 prisoners. Overcrowding was an issue almost daily.
  Mercer County taxpayers often paid $5,000 to $12,000 per month to house inmates at jails in the region. It also cost taxpayers an average of $3,000 per month for the time it took patrol deputies to deliver and pick up prisoners and other related costs, Grey said.
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