Without the revenue brought in by federal inmates, monthly operating expenses for the Harvey County Detention Center could be more than $70,000 higher — placing a greater strain on the department's budget.
"That's a huge difference," Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton reported during Monday's Harvey County Commission meeting. "The federal inmate program brings in a lot of money and reduces costs."
Walton shared statistics with the commissioners about the importance of the federal inmate program to the county. The county currently is paid $55 a day for housing a federal prisoner, plus payment for that patient's medication. The jail brought in more than $1 million last year by housing federal prisoners, and the program has become a major revenue generator for the county.
In the first quarter of 2013, Harvey County spent spent about $370,191.26 on the detention center (including wages, benefits, operating costs, etc., but excluding funds spent on juvenile detention). The county brought in $279,182.99 by housing federal inmates, bringing the county's average cost to operate the jail per month down to about $30,000 in taxpayer dollars. By adding in all inmate revenue, including city inmates, the county pays about $20,000 per month.
"I'm going to challenge you, you're not going to find a detention center that runs as cheap as that," Walton said.
Without federal prisoners, the county's average cost per month increases to about $106,000.
Walton previously expressed concerns about the Harvey County Detention Center's rising inmate population and how it could impact costs. The jail was built to hold 136, but with three cells out of operation, that number has dropped to 130. In a recent week, the average population hit 136. That's a dramatic jump from 2009, when the daily inmate average was only 98.
Due to the increasing jail population, there have been times when Walton has had to cut back on the number of federal prisoners he can take in. In the long-term, he would like to expand the jail to the north, which would allow the jail to have 66 more beds. He believes the cost for the expansion would pay off in the long run, as the jail would have an increased capacity to house federal prisoners.
Walton also recommended commissioners look at setting aside some of the funds from the federal prisoners for day-to-day maintenance needs. A 2011 needs assessment at the detention center revealed issues with the center's previous deferred maintenance program, which waited to fix items until they broke down.
"Consequently, things were falling apart, and systems were failing," Walton said, adding that deferring maintenance often results in higher costs in the long run.
Commissioner Randy Hague said he also supported diverting funds for regular detention center upkeep.
"I do like the idea of setting a percent that goes back into a maintenance fund," he said.
Anthony Swartzendruber, assistant administrator and finance director for the county, said the county commission would still have to approve expenditures for major maintenance projects.