Jail Budget Could Bring Tax Increase
WATER VALLEY – While weather is delaying the start of jail construction, county officials have planned a budget meeting Friday to get a grasp of the increased operating expense for the facility once it is constructed and becomes operational.
The current jail budget is $304,117 annually, an expense that is expected to increase with the larger, 64-bed capacity facility that will almost triple the space of the current 24-bed jail.
The good news, reported from earlier meetings, is current millage is already earmarked for the annual payment to retire the almost $3 million construction debt without a tax increase. But coming in Friday’s meeting will be the first public discussion about the actual increase in funding needed for the day-to-day operations for the new jail that could come with a tax increase.
The topic surfaced in the “first Monday” meeting on April 7 in Water Valley when supervisors addressed several jail issues.
First supervisors agreed to transfer $25,000 from the county’s Industrial Opera-tions Fund to a separate jail fund to finance dirt work, culverts and gravel for the new jail site.
Next District Three Supervisor Lee McMinn requested a work session during a recessed meeting scheduled Friday, April 11, to get an idea of the increase from the operating expense for the jail.
His request was approved, but Board President Tommy Vaughn stressed that county officials are in early stages of determining the final budget cost and requested that the newspaper be judicious about printing figures until they are finalized.
“Are you talking about during the meeting?” Vaughn asked about crunching numbers.
“Yes,” McMinn answered.
“Well, there is no problem with that. We know we have some money out there that we are going to have to find,” Vaughn agreed about the jail budget increase.
“We need to talk about it. Everybody needs to know what challenges are out there, and we got some,” Vaughn said.
“The reason I was suggesting that was so all five of us could be here at the same time. And Lance (Sheriff Lance Humphreys) could be here,” McMinn said, adding that earlier, non-public work sessions on the matter with only two supervisors meeting at a time was not as effective.
“It sounds like a good idea,” Vaughn said. But he added that he would request that the newspaper work with supervisors on the matter.
“It is a work session. I don’t want to see front page news that it looks like a five mill increase. We don’t know what it is going to be and it upsets people,” Vaughn said about printing figures established during the budget planning meeting.
“But we need the opportunity to sit down here like you said with all of us together, because two of us at a time, we just can’t get the information out there,” Vaughn agreed.
Vaughn stressed that the county doesn’t need to be throwing out budget figures in April. He explained that the county’s financial situation could change between April and the start of the new fiscal year in October, changes that could affect the overall budget.
“We could be sued. The schools could come in wanting a four mill raise. We could have a capital murder case,” Vaughn noted.
He also pointed to earlier examples where information was printed in the paper, only to be changed.
“We have to come back after it was printed that we were going to do this and this and this, when we were just talking. And people take it as gospel. What we are looking at right now, I can tell you, is about a $94,000 deficit in the jail budget,” Vaughn said about the jail. Vaughn added that much of the increase is needed to hire two jailers.
He also pointed to the state mandate for the sheriff’s salary increase.
“I fully agree that he (Lance Humphreys) needs more money. It’s kind of hard when they say come up with $20,000. We have to come up with that money,” Vaughn said about the separate issue.
“To say that we are looking at a $94,000 deficit in April, I don’t want to do it. Not now. In the past, six or seven times in the middle of the year we were looking at deficits that we didn’t have a clue where we were going to come up with the money and we did. But it is certainly something we need to be working toward,” Vaughn reiterated.
He added that it will take creative, out-of-the-box thinking to find funding for the facility.
“To tell you we can feed 61 prisoners for the same amount you are feeding 23 is ludicrous,” Vaughn continued.
Vaughn added that the larger jail will be constructed to accommodate future needs and it will not operate at full capacity from day one.
“It’s going to be a gradual increase. Put it on the board agenda, that’s fine with me,” Vaughn said.
“I just want to say we are going to build a jail-that’s pretty obvious. We are going to build a very nice facility that is double or triple the size we got. You’re right, it will take more money,” McMinn said.
“We want to make sure Lance gets what he needs to run a safe and efficient jail. From the numbers that Lance has shared with me, he has got a pretty good idea based on several different scenarios of what it is going to cost. You know what your basic costs are gonna be. The variable is the number of prisoners. It should be pretty easy to come up with a good range of what it’s going to cost and that will help with our planning down the road,” he continued.
“It would be good to have some kind of planning budget going forward. I don’t want to wait for the last minute to do that,” McMinn added.
“Implementing a budget is not done in September,” Vaughn agreed. “It is done 12 months out of the year. And as long as we are all on the same page, working toward that I think we got a good chance of making it. I can’t guarantee anything, there are too many unforeseens. But I can assure you one thing, we are going to work to keep it as low as we can. It encourages me that everybody is interested in it and knows we have some concerns we have to address,” Vaughn said.
“I would like to have it on the agenda for that meeting if we could. We can work an hour or several hours, just to get an idea of where we all are,” McMinn said.
“Lance is kind of working with us on this. As he goes through this (budget) he is seeing things he can take out. Isn’t that right, Lance?” District Five Supervisor Frank “Bubba” Tillman asked.
“I’ve got different scenarios,” Humphreys replied, adding that he would have figures available for the April 11 meeting.
“I don’t have a problem at all as long as we don’t have a front page saying we are going to raise millage four mills because we don’t know,” Vaughn said. “If that is going to be the case, I am not for it. This has been an open session ever since we have been here. But every word said doesn’t need to be printed. We need to discuss options and make sure when we are discussing this as an option. Just print the final decision, please,” Vaughn said as discussion on the matter came to a close.