Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Sandoval County will have to chip in up to $1 million extra to cover jail expenses this fiscal year because key revenues from housing federal and Bernalillo County inmates lagged behind projections.
Though the money will come from the county’s general operating fund, which Sandoval County residents contribute to via property taxes, County Manager Phil Rios wants to make clear that covering jail costs is not a taxpayer subsidy.
State law requires counties to have a detention center, Rios said.
“Our taxpayers, all of us citizens of Sandoval County, are required to pay for 100 percent of a detention facility, no matter what the cost,” he said.
The detention center houses prisoners who are awaiting trial or people who have sentences of less than one year.
Costs to house those inmate are increasing. Detention Center Director Al Casamento attributes that primarily to higher medical care standards and inmates with mental health problems or serious chronic medical conditions. For example, the jail recently had two inmates requiring dialysis sessions three times a week at $500 a session, plus overtime for an officer to accompany them, Casamento said.
The county is pursuing many avenues to bring in outside revenues to reduce the amount it has to pay toward jail costs, according to Rios. Chief among those efforts are contracts to house prisoners for the U.S. Marshals Service and Bernalillo County’s overcrowded Metropolitan Detention Center.
“We are able to leverage some of our beds to house federal and MDC prisoners, which are not our responsibility, and that revenue allows us to subsidize the facility through those dollars,” Rios said.
U.S. Marshals Service and MDC inmates began arriving at the 386-bed county jail last summer, their numbers gradually increasing, Casamento said.
Monthly reports for November through April the county provided to the Journal show that, on average, federal and MDC inmates made up about 50 percent of the population.
However, payments for housing those inmates lagged behind projections, and Sandoval County will have to put in between $775,000 and $1 million more from its operating fund budget to cover jail costs.
That’s on top of the $4.3 million the county put toward the jail’s $9.4 million budgeted costs for the fiscal year that will end June 30.
Revenue for housing MDC prisoners was projected at $1.8 million, and $1.3 million for the federal inmates. But county commissioners learned during their discussions on the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 that revenue from the MDC was $440,000 below projections and federal prisoner revenue was $174,374 below. Revenue for housing local prisoners, corrections fees and vendors fees were also lower than expected.
Rios said federal and MDC inmates initially arrived in smaller numbers than the contracts provide for. Also, Sandoval County sends bills based on the number of beds actually used in a month. Once they receive the bills, MDC and the U.S. Marshals Service have 30 days to pay.
Rios said revenue projected for the July-to-September quarter didn’t reach expectations until October.
Sandoval County is increasing rates to address rising costs – Casamento estimates the daily cost to the county to house an inmate is now $68.
On July 1, municipalities that send prisoners to the county jail will see the daily rate rise from $67 to $70, while the court corrections fee will go from $25 to $30.
The county is also negotiating with MDC to increase its rate from $62 to $67. Rios is hoping to increase the federal rate after the end of this fiscal year, based on an analysis of actual costs.
Rios said crime is the key determinant in the jail population, and he pointed out that the county works with the courts to help minimize the time inmates spend in jail.
Crystal Hyer, deputy executive officer for the District Court in Sandoval County, said the county provided $25,000 this fiscal year to help fund a program that reduces the number of low-risk offenders who are incarcerated. The pre-trial program allows offenders to remain in the community. They are monitored and have to undergo drug testing, and may receive treatment services if they have drug or mental health issues, Hyer said. She estimated an average of 55 people per month are in the program rather than being in the detention center.
“It’s something that saves the taxpayers money,” Hyer said.