The Claiborne Budget Committee sweated through another tough session last week in its attempt to balance the numbers. The lengthy meeting netted a new plan of action that, if adopted by the full commission, might satisfy those overseeing continued certification of the Claiborne County Jail.
Claiborne Sheriff David Ray and others are scheduled to appear before the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) Control Board on Sept. 7. At that time, the board will decide whether the proposed new plan of action will provide continued measurable progress in its overcrowding situation.
If the jail is de-certified, discretionary prisoners will likely be removed within a short period of time. The loss of those prisoners will create a substantial cut in revenues that the county has come to depend on to balance the annual budget.
A couple ideas were bounced around, first suggested during the Jail Committee meeting held just prior to the budget meeting.
Chairman Steve Mason, who is also a county commissioner, said it is likely the county will need to raise property taxes to cover the new fiscal year budget, if the jail is de-certified.
The county can either raise taxes 30 cents to recoup the loss or raise them 24 cents to pay for the jail expansion. That way, the county retains certification and will continue to house the prisoners, he said.
“Then, we can come back in a year or so and drop the tax rate,” said Mason.
County resident Joe Brooks questioned just how the county could pay for the expansion.
“So, you’re going to find somebody to just float $12.3 million. You’re going to secure a bond somewhere, right. You’ll find a company to say ‘we’ll build it, we’ll finance it, you just make your property tax payments to us,’ right,” said Brooks.
He reminded the committee of the defeated jail expansion bond referendum.
“You can say you’ll raise the property taxes 24 cents to pay for that money, but you got to borrow $12.3 million somewhere (upfront), to pay for it.
“Now, according to state law, you can’t even have this discussion for three months (because) right now, you’re right back in the bond business — you’re just calling it a different name,” said Brooks.
Bill Keck, who is a member of the budget committee and a county commissioner, suggested getting rid of the federal inmates at a cost of at least $660,000 annually.
“We take (the amount) off the $1.8 million (the ending budget) and still have a $1.1 million budget, but I didn’t even get a second,” said Keck, referring to the earlier jail committee meeting.
Currently, the jail maintains about 50 trustees that do all manner of ‘free labor’ in and around the Justice Center. Those trustees prevent the county from having to hire minimum wage workers to perform the same tasks.
Brooks suggested another plan that could be used to satisfy the TCI Control Board. He suggested contracting with the state to house just 50 of its prisoners and doing away entirely with all federal inmates.
The Claiborne Jail housed an average 31 federal inmates during the previous year, according to CCSO’s Larry Martin.
After a lengthy and winding discussion, the committee approved the Brooks proposal, with the stipulation that county attorney James Estep III ‘signs off’ on the idea.
The proposed Plan of Action, to be submitted to the TCI Control Board in September, must be adopted by the full Claiborne Commission.
Reach Jan Runions at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @scribeCP.