Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

TOP STORY >> Jail to lose more than 200 beds

Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County Quorum Court Tuesday night approved an ordinance reducing the number of beds in the county lockup from about 1,000 to 800 in order to comply with the requirement to submit a balanced budget.

The county has to cut about $7 million from the $40 million unobligated portion of its budget.

Randy Morgan, director of the Pulaski County Detention Center, said he and Sheriff Randy Johnson would just as soon start notifying the balance of the deputies and jailers facing layoffs as to leave the false hope that the county could afford to staff and run a 965-bed jail.
“If we wait another month, it won’t make any difference on what I’m going to do,” Morgan said. “Layoffs will follow the (jail) population down.”
Of the 122 layoffs anticipated, about 90 of them are deputies and jailers, most of the rest work for County Judge Floyd “Buddy” Villines.
“Everybody that we have to cut in the enforcement branch has been notified,” said John Rehrauer, spokesman for the sheriffs office. “That’s about 30. On the detention side, we’ve notified about 16 or 20.” That leaves about 40 corrections officers to be cut.
Court member Steve Goss said it was “fair to let them know now, instead of in 45 or 60 more days.”

But Teresa Belew, director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said it was a matter of survival and quality of life, and she wondered how cases already in the pipeline would be prosecuted after the arresting officers are laid off.

John McCaleb said fewer jail beds mean more criminals on the streets, more crime and perhaps an atmosphere where people will be afraid to go to the River Market or bring new business to town. He said that so far, the cities had received a “sweetheart deal” in their share of funding the detention center.

“Spread this burden over the cities and the county,” he said.
Currently, Pulaski County bears all but $2 million of the $21 million cost of running the lockup.
“I’ve had to terminate friends that have worked here for 30 years,” said Villines, adding that despite the hopes held out by some quorum court members and others, he didn’t see a likely fix that would allow the jail to accommodate 965 prisoners.
“This will officially notify the cities, and the public is beginning to get the notion,” he said.

Jacksonville’s Bob Johnson, an accountant, quorum court member and head of the county budget committee, said the county had the same problem that put the Pulaski County Special School District in fiscal distress—spending more of its carryover each year, at the expense of capital improvements — until it was broke.

“The county has budgeted more than its projected revenues by relying on carryover from the year before,” he said. “In 2000 we had $12 million carryover. This year (2005) we’ll have $2 million.”

Johnson said, “We’re having to make drastic changes this year when small changes should have been made in previous years.”
He said 80 percent of the county’s budget is salary and benefits, but that it should be about 72 percent.”