Powell: Rates ‘highway robbery’

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, September 18, 2013

County wants to charge $100K more for inmates; city shopping

Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson is preparing to deal with what one councilman called “highway robbery.”

Johnson told council members in a work session Tuesday night that he recently received a letter from County Commission Chairman Bill Godwin notifying the city that the commission will increase the rate it charges the city per day to house prisoners. The rates Godwin cited would add $100,000 in expense for the city each year, Johnson said.

“First-off, I think his interpretation of the contract is incorrect,” Johnson said. “Our current contract has a provision that it can be renewed at the termination of a term. Under that contract, if we give notice that we want to renew, all language stays the same, but the rate of pay increases, with a formula for the increase.”

Johnson said the contract ties rate increases to the consumer price index.

“My intention is to write the chairman, and advise him that we wish to renew,” Johnson told the council. “I will ask him to advise us on what rate should be based on the terms of the contract.”

Councilman Terry Powell, who is serving his third consecutive term, said he has been through this before.

“This is highway robbery,” Powell said.

Powell said during his first term, he and then-Mayor Jerry Andrews sat down to negotiate payment terms with then-Commission Chairman Greg White.

“The county kept talking about the contract was based on an agreement that nobody could produce,” Powell recalled.

“Back then, the (police) chief did a lot of work, and determined they were charging us based on an assumption that we had been having an aveage of 10 people in jail on any given day. It turned out our average was only three. They were overcharging us. They were charging like $7 for Opp to keep somebody in jail, but charging us $17 to $18 for the same timeframe.

The contract was renegotiated after Johnson mayor was elected in 2008, and the language linking rates to the consumer price index was added.

“Every year, they would notify us of the change, and (before this year), it has been within what appears to be reasonable,” he said.

Both Johnson and Police Chief Wilbur Williams said they have a cost-efficient back-up plan for housing inmates if the county won’t renew the contract with the current language.

In August, the Covington County Commission hired an architect to design an addition to its overcrowded jail to house female inmates.

At that meeting, commissioners also set the rate it charges municipalities for housing inmates at $24 per day per inmate, and $7 per day for food.

“That’s 95-cents less per day that is presently charged (for housing), and the same for food,” Godwin said.

County Administrator Brenda Petty said, “It’s a small decrease for the smaller municipalities. Andalusia’s been on a flat rate.”

Since then, the City of Opp also has been researching other options for housing inmates, including the possibility of putting long-term inmates in the Geneva County Jail.

In other business, the council:

• Took no action on its 2013-14 fiscal year budget, which will become effective on Oct. 1. Councilman Ralph Wells requested two more weeks to study the budget and “pester John,” referring to City Clerk John Thompson.

• Amended the strength plan to allow a part-time employee at the Adult Activity Center to deliver meals on wheels. A part-time administrative position was eliminated.