The Moore American

September 26, 2012

County questions inmate billing

By Jessica Bruha
The Moore American

MOORE — Detention center still over capacity

County commissioners questioned the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office during a regular meeting Monday about billing the Department of Corrections for their inmates being held in the county jail.

Currently, the sheriff’s office is only billing the DOC whenever convicted inmates are picked up. Commissioner Rod Cleveland asked why they didn’t bill the DOC monthly.

Sheriff Joe Lester said they are only billing them when inmates are picked up because that is what they were instructed to do at the old jail. Lester said since the DOC was always picking up their inmates at the old jail, the sheriff’s office didn’t have the same problem then as they do now: being over capacity.

The new jail has been over capacity for weeks because the DOC has not been picking up all of their inmates during their monthly transfers. They are only scheduled to pick up 10 to 15 inmates every month.

Lester said part of the problem is the DOC doesn’t have room for them.

Last week, there were about 98 inmates eligible to be transferred, and the jail was holding 411 inmates. On Monday morning, the sheriff reported they were down by five this week.

The jail is considered “over capacity” because only 350 prisoners are supposed to be held without opening any additional pods. However, they already have had to open a third pod to hold the extra inmates waiting to be transferred.

Commissioner Cleveland said the sheriff’s office could be billing the DOC monthly to not only help with the cost of food but also for additional staff needed for opening the third pod.

Undersheriff Rhett Burnett said they have been in contact with the person who does the sheriff’s office billing and with the DOC to possibly change the billing method.

“That doesn’t get rid of any beds, that doesn’t clear up any space, but it does help,” Burnett said.

Rural Water District No. 1 Project: The board of commissioners also asked board members of the Rural Water District several questions about a project that has been ongoing for nine years.

Water project board member Richard Murman said the board for the project was created through a steering committee in November 2003. Since then, they have had multiple attempts to try to make a feasible financial system for the project.

They weren’t successful in finding a financial solution until Aug. 3 this year, when the USDA gave them a grant and a loan totaling around $4.7 to 4.9 million. The board then needed continued CDBG funding from the Cleveland County for partial support to compliment that grant and loan.

“How close are you guys in (completing) this project?” Cleveland said, “and what are the next steps?”

Murman said no pipes are in the ground and no test holes have been drilled at this point. However, the projected start date is May 2013.

“We have to get to the closing of the loans with all those divisions first, and at that point, things will start to move pretty fast,” Murman said.

Commissioner Rusty Sullivan noticed that water testing had already been completed and results stated that the well water quality would be high.

“How can you test what you don’t have?” Sullivan said.

Murman said since the Department of Corrections currently has water wells in that area, they were able to test the DOC’s wells. Also, since there are wells already there, the board does not have to go in for a water permit, which helps.

The Department of Corrections would be used as a secondary water source for the city of Lexington when the project is completed. The city’s wells would be the primary source.

A water purchase proposal was approved in 2010 with the DOC, but no contract was made, Murman said.

“Will anybody on your board receive or get compensation for any of this?” Sullivan said.

Murman replied no, saying the only people who will benefit from the project are those with the DOC and the city of Lexington as well as about 88 citizens.

“How big could this (project) be?” Cleveland said.

Murman said the project’s board wants the main water line, which would be a 10-inch line, to run along State Highway 39 and then split north and south. The system would be designed for a total of 105 users.

When Sullivan asked about comparing water rates with surrounding areas, Daryl Covey, chairman of Rural Water District No. 1, said the USDA provided them with a business plan, including the water rates.

“They (the USDA) have essentially given us our business plan. They said this will be your structure, here’s the payments every month, here’s the whole thing laid out, here’s what you’re agreeing to,” Covey said.

Murman said the loan for the USDA is for 40 years. The first two years of that payment would be deferred to operations and maintenance of the system to develop some type of performance level, he said.

Commissioners decided to approve the agenda item under the premise that the item will be put back on the BFCC’s agenda so it can go under review in December, at which time they will check the project’s status.