County could lose millions through loss of jail bed rentals
YAVAPAI COUNTY -- The Yavapai County Sheriff's Department may be tightening their budget belts if the U.S. Marshal's Office moves forward with terminating its bed rental program with the county.
Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher learned of the Marshal's decision to end the program last week through an email.
"It was a short email that said they are contracting with an outside source and that they would be ceasing the service that we provide here for them," Mascher said.
The program allowed the Marshal's Office to house non-violent, minor crime classification offenders at the jail, YCSO Media and Crime Prevention coordinator Dwight D'Evelyn said. The types of crimes the inmates committed could vary, including illegal immigrant violations.
The amount of money charged to the Marshal's for housing services was based on the number of "heads in beds," D'Evelyn said.
This past Thursday, Mascher met with officials from the Marshal's Office to discuss how the program's loss would impact Yavapai County.
The county relies on the revenue source to help operate and maintain the Prescott jail, Mascher said. Since 2008, the program has brought between $2 and $3 million of revenue into the county each year.
The money also allowed the department to purchase new technology equipment that enables them to offer offsite booking services to Prescott-area agencies, Mascher said.
While Mascher said he did not discuss the specific details of the Marshal's decision to pull the program from Yavapai County, he suspects it is a combination of money and location.
With more than 5,400 beds, the new facility would allow the Marshal's office to house all of the inmates in one location, making it more operationally efficient, Mascher said.
"My negotiations with them are not through, but it doesn't look real positive," Mascher said. "It really was a punch in the gut to all of a sudden get an email saying we're done."
Mascher is turning to the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors for help in countering the lost revenue.
In budget year 2000-01, the county established a Jail District through an associated sales tax, county Administrator Phil Bourdon said. Sales tax collected helps pay for the operation and maintenance of the jail.
"With the bed rentals that have been going on, we (the county) finally were not paying out of the general fund any additional amount for maintenance," Bourdon said. "So, we are going to have to figure out if we need to fund additional money out of the general fund in the future."
While the Marshal's announcement was a surprise, Supervisor Craig Brown said he was taking the announcement "with a grain of salt," since the board and sheriff's department knew that the program could end at any time.
"The bed rental money was primarily being used for staffing for those extra 100 beds we were allowing for the Marshal Service," Brown said. "Any other savings we were getting we were planning on using on any new jail facility we looked at in the future."
"It was kind of like a savings account that is now gone," he added.
Supervisor Jack Smith said the loss of the bed rental program is "unfortunate" for the county.
"That was a pretty good revenue source to eliminate, or at least draw down, some of the tax burden on the citizens," Smith said. "My biggest thing is that we need to find some other way to generate that revenue without having to go to the taxpayers."
Because the program could end at any time, the board did not factor that revenue into any of its budgetary planning, Supervisor Rowle Simmons said. However, that doesn't diminish the loss of the program.
The exact impact to the county has yet to be determined, Simmons said.
"Whatever it is, it's going to be a lot of money," he said.
Mascher is scheduled to speak to the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors at the Sept. 3 meeting about how to move forward, which may include the use of local county money to help support the jail.
"We've wrapped up this year's budget; now let's work together this upcoming year and start problem solving short term and long term plans for the jail district," Mascher said.