By David Howell
COFFEEVILLE – “It’s been a while,” jail consultant Irb Benjamin told supervisors as he took a seat at the table during the “first Monday” supervisors meeting in Coffeeville.
His visit followed two unsuccessful years of working in Jackson to gain legislative approval to construct regional jails in various counties across the state. Supervisors hired Benjamin in late 2007 to work with legislators in Jackson in hopes of landing a regional jail in the county during the 2008 legislative session. He was rehired again to working during the 2009 legislative session.
During both years, the bills authorizing the regional jails in various counties died in the Senate’s correction committee.
This time, Benjamin was ready to pitch another idea, although admittedly in early stages, in which a coalition of counties across the state who are in dire need of a new county jail would unite to pursue legislative
“If we can sell the need that the counties have, I promise you that the funding gets easier,” Benjamin explained.
“If we can do a deal on the jail, it might cost you 15 or 20 percent more than what you are currently paying to get a jail,” Benjamin said, referring to what the county currently budgets for jail expenses.
“It’s got to be a good deal for everybody,” Benjamin said, adding he would be back in touch after he worked out the mechanics of the deal.
Building a regional jail in the county had been identified by Yalobusha supervisors as an option to replace the aging 1964-model jail that has been the subject of scrutiny in the last year and a frequent topic at supervisors’ meetings. In the regional jail arrangement, the county borrows the money to build the facility. In turn, the state agrees to pay a daily rate for a set number of state prisoners housed. This agreement allows the county to recoup much of the expenses incurred by the county to construct and operate the jail.
The new arrangement appeared to be similar, the county would have beds available to house state inmates, and would be paid a per diem for each inmate housed by the State Department of Corrections.
“There is a revenue stream that is currently in the Department of Corrections,” Benjamin explained. “If we funnel it right, there ought to be way to take the dollars that are currently in flow and funnel it into building these jails and get them built for you in a cost factor that you can afford,” Benjamin elaborated.
The talk then shifted to Benjamin’s fees following input from District Three Supervisor M.H. “Butch” Surrette, who questioned the amount county would pay the consultant. In Benjamin’s current contract, the county would pay him $250,000, but only if the county landed a regional jail. With two failed years, Benjamin has not been paid any money by the county.
In the potential new arrangement, Benjamin told supervisors he would “do it for less” if the deal was reached.
Following the 20 minute discussion, Benjamin left the meeting with an informal nod from supervisors indicating they would be interested if a deal is reached. The consultant said the goal will be to push the potential legislation through the 2010 Legislative Session.
Other business conducted by the board included:
• Approved a request from Fire Coordinator Frank Hyde to purchase an used fire truck for Clear Springs Fire Department. Hyde reported he had located a 1996 International fire truck at the cost of $15,000.
“I think it would make them a good truck,” Hyde explained. The truck will be purchased from Coahoma County and will will replace a truck that was wrecked by the department last year.
“The fire department is anxious to get one,” District Five Supervisor Frank “Bubba” Tillman said.
• Approved a request by Tillman to repair damage at the sheriff’s department in Coffeeville, which is located adjacent to the courthouse.
“We got to do something because the sheriff can’t use his office out there,” Tillman said. The problem is moisture in the bricks, which has damaged the plaster. Supervisors authorized the repair, along with several other places the plaster is damaged in both courthouses.
• Heard a request from Valerie Parsons to audit the county’s telephone bills. Parsons, who works for Next Generation Communications, said her fees would be paid only if she discovers billing errors made in the past several years, money that would be refunded. Parsons also said she would review the current options and see if she could save the county money. A board decision on hiring Parsons was delayed until a March 6 meeting, giving Board Attorney John Crow time to review the contract.
• Yalobusha County Extension Service Director Steve Cummins updated supervisors about his department.
“Some of you might not know, but Christine Fielder, our 4-H Program Assistant retired at the end of this last month,” Cummins said, adding he was unsure when the job would be filled by the state.
“I just want to ask that we just keep the money in the budget until we fill it,” Cummins said.
• Approved a request for Justice Court Judge Steve Riley to attend a Professional Judicial Development conference at the Silver Star Hotel.
• Approved the claims order.
• Approved a request from Purchasing Clerk Janet Caulder to destroy bank records from the garbage account and landfill account.
• Agreed to conduct the annual jail inspection.
• Approved a list of homestead disallowances and corrections.
• Appointed Vicki Shelton as a requisition clerk in the Circuit Clerk office.
• Entered executive session to discuss a personnel issue and the Fletcher Fly lawsuit filed against the county. Before entering executive session, Board Attorney John Crow reported that Fly had filed a motion asking the federal court to reconsider a summary judgment handed down in favor of the county.