Officials at odds over jail budget

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Jailer says judge-executive overestimating state revenues

By Marty Finley

Hardin County Jailer Danny Allen and Judge-Executive Harry Berry clashed on this year’s proposal for the jail budget.

Berry said he plans to reduce the Hardin County Detention Center budget by $540,000 over the current year’s roughly $8.2 million to $7.7 million, but a proposal from Allen cuts close to $1 million in revenue at nearly $7.4 million.

Allen said Berry could be overestimating revenue for Class D felony prisoners by $300,000. Berry disagrees.

The jail has seen a reduction in Class D prisoners since Kentucky enacted House Bill 463 in 2011, which reduced the prison population to save money. Allen said the legislation allows early release for certain prisoners.

Changes to the way prisoners are processed have reduced the number of inmates at the jail, which has been running an average daily population of about 550 lately but previously has fallen to around 500. The number of inmates at the jail often was as high as 650 in the past, Allen said.

Roughly 45 percent of the inmates are county prisoners while the rest are state, according to Allen. The jail has explored acquiring certification to house federal inmates and is considering housing inmates from overcrowded jails in other counties to boost revenue, he said.

Traditionally, the county has placed around $3 million into the jail budget annually to offset expenses not covered by state money.

The reduction in prisoners, Berry contends, has reduced expenses for necessities such as food and has created less need for current staffing levels.

Allen said the cuts in his budget surely will lead to layoffs of a half dozen or so workers, and told Fiscal Court earlier this week it will impact full and part-time workers inside and outside the jail. That means there could be a reduction in the inmate trash pickup program. He said he will not jeopardize the safety of his staff inside to ensure the trash pickup program is fully managed.

“It’s gonna be reduced,” Allen said Thursday in his office. “It has to be.”

The jail had about 86 employees Thursday, but has had 90 or more recently.

Allen said he already has several employees working numerous overtime hours in a two-week period because all shifts are not fully covered. The reduction of further employees, he said, only will exacerbate the problem.

“These cuts in budget line expenditures will probably set the jail back by five years or more,” Allen wrote in a letter to Fiscal Court. “Examples are overworked staff, staff turnovers, staff safety from being fatigued from overtime hours, properly maintaining the buildings and reductions of community services.”

If maintenance problems arise, he said, he would have to return to the county for more money.

Berry argues his budget proposal is reasonable and the funding from state prisoners will be there.

“For the first nine months of this year, we have received almost $1.5 million,” Berry wrote in an email. “The last four months have seen significant increase over the first five months of the fiscal year. Current trend is projected to bring us to $2.0 to $2.1 million. Last year’s actual was $2,135,470. I have projected $2,160,000 in Class D revenue.”

Berry said there is a roughly 20 percent decrease in the inmate population coinciding with an approximately 17 percent increase in staff from the time when the jail population was higher.

“While my draft (working) proposal is $327,000 more than the jailer proposed, I do think it is more realistic,” Berry stated in the email.

Though half a million dollars lower than the current budget, Berry said his proposal will only be $170,000 lower than actual expenses last year.

Berry’s proposal would cut $100,000 from the jail’s payroll and another $180,000 in benefits, but he said it should only lead to the loss of four or five full-time staff, which could be solved through retirements and attrition.

“These reductions can be accomplished over the next several months through routine retirements and turnover in the approximate 94 staff members of the jail,” he said in the email. “I do not see a ‘round of layoffs’ being necessary.”

Berry said he is unsure why Allen believes the proposal could set the jail back because it was performing in a similar fashion five years ago.

Allen said he takes pride in the lack of deficiencies found when the jail is inspected, but he worries about that level of success if his staff is stressed and fatigued from being overworked.

And even with a reduction in inmates, sections of the jail still require a certain number of staff per shift, and prisoners cannot easily be moved because they are classified differently by the state, barring certain types of inmates from mingling, he said.

The implementation of Tasers has reduced the number of altercations with inmates and injuries to employees, but Allen said his officers still are working in dangerous conditions where they have to break up fights and restrain unruly prisoners.

He estimates an average daily shift has about one officer for every 77 inmates.

If the jail has to cut corners, it should not be carrying the burden alone, Allen said.

“If I’m being asked to do it, then other departments could save money also,” he said.

Marty Finley can be reached at 270-505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.