Sunday, November 18, 2012

Using county jail as revenue producer risky

Relying on a county jail as a revenue producer is never a good idea.  The Scranton Times explains counties who live by the "cell" can also die by the "cell."

Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania learned late last month that the state Department of Corrections plans to pull its 50 inmates from the county prison.  The move threatens to blow a $1.75 million hole in the county's budget for next year.

The loss of state inmates is not the first hit for the county prison in terms of inmates whose incarceration produces revenue. Last year, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement pulled its inmates, costing the county more than $3 million in revenue.

Lackawanna is one of 14 counties whose prisons housed 554 state inmates as of the last week of October.  All 14 counties received similar bad news from the Department of Corrections, reported the Times.

The state plans to ask the counties if they are willing to consider taking state inmates who commit parole violations as part of its efforts to reduce the number of inmates in state prisons.  This in the midst a Justice Reinvestment Initiative that is to save money on the state corrections level and funnel it back to local government to initiate crime fighting efforts.

In September, state officials projected doubling the number of inmates housed in Lackawanna to 100, Warden Robert McMillan said. That caused the county to raise its budget estimate for revenues from housing state inmates to $1,752,000 next year, he said.

The commissioners are already proposing raising the real estate tax by 2.42 mills to 57.42 mills next year. A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value. On a property assessed at the average of $13,000 for residential properties, the hike would raise taxes to $746.20 from $715, or 4.4 percent.

A mill of taxation raises about $1.2 million so $1.752 million is equivalent to about 1.5 mills in taxes, though that does not necessarily mean taxes will go up by that much.

Ironically, the commissioners had attributed part of the need for the increase to escalating costs of running the prison, which was looking to hire up to 30 new employees at an estimated cost of $1.19 million to comply with state and federal staffing mandates. The prison accounts for a quarter of spending in the county's 2013 budget, reorted the Times.

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