Claremore Daily Progress

June 13, 2013

County jail trust fund short $96K

Salesha Wilken
Staff Reporter

CLAREMORE —

The Rogers County Criminal Justice Authority met Tuesday to determine how to resolve a $96,000 shortfall in funding.
The trust members voted unanimously to request the funds from the Rogers County Commissioners. The funds will be repaid by the trust after the new fiscal year begins in July.
Legal counsel for the trust has yet to determine if “borrowing” or otherwise committing money from next fiscal year to repay the commissioners is permissible by law. 
Rogers County Assistant District Attorney David Iski did not advise the authority, but said, “he did not believe it would be an issue because the funds had already been collected.”
The trust is seeking legal advise from their attorney James C. Orbison, who was not present at the meeting.
Orbison issued a legal opinion June 3 at the request of Rogers County Commissioner Mike Helm, stating the responsibility of the county to provide funding for the trust authority.
“Rogers County must make it a priority to fund the operation and maintenance of the Rogers County Jail,” Orbison said in his legal opinion.
The issue started about a year ago when the fund was approximately $150,000 short and the board voted to require the commissioners to provide the funds.
Trust documents require any shortfall in funds to be paid by the board of county commissioners, according to Helm.
“We had a year to make it up,” Helm said.
Helm was referring to jail administrations ability to make up the shortfall by cutting expenses.
“We were told constantly that there were cuts that were being made,” Commissioner Kirt Thacker said.
Jail administration successfully cut the shortfall by approximately $60,000 this year, lowering but not overcoming the deficit.
By increasing the intake of Department of Correction inmates to 50, the trust earned approximately $500,000 in 2012, combined with other cost-saving measures, the shortfall was decreased.
Overall, the trust stayed under the approved 2012 budget of approximately $2.5 million and the shortfall was a carryover of an existing shortfall from 2011, according to jail administration. 
Last year, not only was there a budget shortfall, but the commissioners approved the use of emergency funds leaving no extra money, according to Helm.
“If we took $150,000 that was in reserves to cover shortfall last year, it is my understanding this is how it has been done for years. This budget procedure has continued on,” Thacker said. “Is this a spending problem or a budget problem?”
“We are talking about two separate issues — how we are going to fund the shortfall and what will be done for next years budget,” Commissioner Dan DeLozier said.
The current shortfall, if not covered by the commissioners, would have directly effected employees as the $96,000 is needed to meet June’s payroll, according to jail administration.
Trust member Mayor Cheryl Charles of Inola spoke candidly about the issue.
She made a motion to require the funds to be repaid next fiscal year and suggested the board only approve the budget according to funds that were spent this year.
Without an increase in funds, this will require jail administration to operate at or below current levels despite any increase in expenses.
“If you want a grace period you will have to learn to live without an employee,” Charles said.  Thacker echoed Charles’ statement saying, when there is a shortfall in any business employees are the first to be cut.
He questioned the necessity of the number of jail supervisors currently on staff.
The number of jailors are required by state statute determined by the number of inmates being housed and the number of supervisors is limited to three covering various shifts, according to jail administration.
“We have been in a downfall economy,” DeLozier said.
Everyone has been affected but we are on the way back up, he added.
The trust authority will be meeting at 9 a.m. on June 20 to discuss the 2013-14 budget in which jail administrators are requesting approximately $3 million in funding a $500,000 increase from last year’s expenses.