Finance Committee members debate relevancy of jail refinance policy

Robert Blackford/Editor

Chairman of the Finance Committee Ted Pappas outlined a Jail Refinance Policy for the board's consideration. The draft, submitted by Pappas stated that "Should the direct revenue for the jail fall below the direct expense for the jail, such as salaries, benefits, food, medical, transportation, principal and interest payment, the Sheriff would be directed by the County Board to cut the jail expense budget to the level of revenue received from the prior year. This policy would ensure that neither the property owners of Mercer County nor the other essential county departments would have the responsibility of paying for the jail operations.

Board member Dan Schroeder presented a Jail Budget Review Policy of his own asking "Should the direct revenue for the jail fall below the direct expense for the jail, such as salaries, benefits, food, medical, transportation, and lease payments to the Public Building Commission, the sheriff's department will review the budget for jail for the following year to determine whether any reductions can be made for the next year…"

Schroeder also provided numbers regarding the jail's income for the past three years plus the first three months of 2014.

Pappas thanked Schroeder for putting together the numbers noting, "I want to make sure we protect the citizens. If we refinance the jail I want to make sure this board is consistent with promises that were made."

County Board Chair Jeff McWhorter noted that he is worried about encumbering the sheriff's department.

Pappas said, "I'm concerned that the number of Cook County inmates has dropped. We can't close our eyes if the jail runs into problems. If this runs into problems I don't want to see the first exit ramp to be 'Let's tax the public.'"

Pappas noted that if the jail went south the 5,000 homeowners would have to spend about $100 a year for the next 16 1/2 years. "I believe we should have a policy."

The county board has an April 25 deadline to meet if it wants to refinance the bond and save the county $500,000. That is the latest date they can inform the bond holder that they are refinancing. Between April 1 and that date they have to come up with an agreement as well as hold a public hearing and have the bond on display for 15 days.

Pappas compared the county to John Deere noting that when they knew they weren't going to be making as many tractors this year they laid off personnel.

Schroeder pointed out that jailers find other jobs when you lay them off, adding that you can't just hire them back when you need them.

Bev Lower reported that the county's line of credit is at $238,000.

Pappas reported the county was operating slightly in the black for the year. "It's helpful to see we are operating in an efficient manner. The board has worked hard for the past year and a half."

Pappas did report that the outside revenue from the jail was 10 percent under budget and hoped the good weather would bring in more Cook County inmates.

County Board member George Howard reported that there was no news from Cook County regarding additional inmates coming to the jail.

Pappas noted "We will watch the next few months and hopefully we can improve there."

Store expanded on the Mercer County Board's finance committee meeting from Tuesday, April 1 in the next edition of the Aledo Times Record, April 9.