County facing $160K in cuts

Published 11:59 pm Friday, January 9, 2009

The county commission plans to discuss “toe curling” measures Monday to offset the loss of revenue that would have been generated through a federal inmate housing program.

The U.S. Marshals removed their inmates from the county’s custody Thursday, one week after federal inmate T.C. Harris’ escape from the county jail New Year’s Day. Their decision to terminate the contract will cost the county more than $300,000 in annual revenue.

County administrator Brenda Petty, Chairman Lynn Sasser and District 1 Commissioner David Ellis met with Covington County Sheriff Dennis Meeks Thursday afternoon to discuss the implications of the loss.

“(The commission) is going to have to get our heads together,” Sasser said. “It’s time to talk about some serious cuts. Some of those, well they may curl some toes. We just got to forget about politics. We have to do what’s best for the county.”

Approved in July 2008, the contract called for the Covington County Jail to house approximately 20 inmates per day and was expected to generate more than $324,000 annually for the county. Under the agreement, the monies were to be divided 50-50 between the sheriff’s office and the county’s general fund.

The annual total of the general fund’s 50 percent of the revenue had already been allocated for operating costs in this year’s fiscal year budget. Now, the source of that revenue is gone, and the commission must decide how — or if — it can survive without those funds.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Sasser said. “Losing that contract was a devastating financial blow to the county, and we’re going to have to come up with it some way or another.”

Sasser said the bulk of Monday’s county commission meeting will be used to discuss those ways.

“We’re throwing everything out there,” he said. “We’re going to have to do cut backs. One way that was thrown out there was cutting back on the work week — like flex scheduling — to 35 hours a week instead of 40.”

A portion of the sheriff’s 50 percent was committed to new equipment and a “much-needed raise” for deputies.

“I hate to say it, but with (the Marshals) pulling the contract, it puts the county in a serious situation,” Sasser said. “Some of that money was going to be used for raises for the deputies. Now we feel that’s gone. We regret it, but we just don’t have it.”