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Inmates expected April 1

The federal inmate housing contract is a “go,” with inmates expected to arrive as early as April 1, Sheriff Dennis Meeks said Tuesday.

Monday, county commissioners and Meeks ended a meeting in disagreement over how the proceeds of the federal inmate housing contract – an estimated $164,250 annually – would be spent – specifically, giving raises to sheriff’s office employees.

Under the terms of the contact, there is a $45-per day, per inmate charge for housing. Of that, $7 per day will be paid to the sheriff for feeding each federal inmate and the remaining $38 per-day, per inmate, split 50-50 between the county general fund and the sheriff’s pistol permit fund to be used “at his discretion solely for the purpose of compensating law enforcement personnel and other staff.” The county’s 50 percent is to be sent directly to the general fund.

Those monies are to be paid to CCSO employees not as a “raise” but as an annual lump sum payment payable only when revenues are sufficient to cover the cost.

Meeks said he agreed with that practice, but felt wording in the initial agreement presented Monday eliminated his ability to use general fund monies to give merit raises to departmental employees. As a result, he stated he would not implement the federal inmate contract with the U.S. Marshals until a compromise could be achieved.

Shortly after 5 p.m. Monday, a clarified version of the agreement was sent out to media, changing the wording to “extraordinary salary increases for law enforcement” shall not be paid using the money. Also added was, “Salary increases related to promotions, deputy certification or assignment of additional duties, will continue to be paid from the sheriff’s general fund budgets, so long as such increases do not cause the line-items for salaries and fringe benefits to exceed the amounts budgeted for these purposes.”

“My whole motivation (in seeking the contract) was to protect my employees,” Meeks said Tuesday. “After the revision of the contract, I think both the commission and the sheriff’s office will benefit from the housing of federal inmates.”

Meeks said he anticipates the arrival of an estimated 10 federal inmates as early as April 1.

“(The Federal Marshals) prison is very similar to ours at the county jail with people coming in and out,” he said. “Based on the number of inmates that they have, there’s really no way to pinpoint an exact number of how many we will house. They said 10 to begin with, but I really think as the months progress, so will the federal inmate numbers.”

Implementation of the new contract will not require any additional personnel, and Meeks said he feels “very confident that the issues (from) a year ago have been resolved and corrected” as to ensure there are no repeats of last year’s New Year’s Day escape of a federal inmate.