State lags in reimbursement for jail costs

A recent payment of approximately $28,000 to Iron County by the state for prisoner board reimbursement was a welcome development for county officials.

However, the state is still $70,000 behind.

It is a common and continual problem for most Missouri counties and one that the Iron County Board of Commissioners addressed in their regular meeting on Thursday.

“The Sheriff (Roger Medley) has agreed to pay two months worth of board for prisoners to Wayne County because we didn’t have the money to pay it,” said Presiding Commissioner Jim Scaggs. “That amounts to $15,000 and that will pretty much exhaust Roger’s funds.  He helped us out last year as well, but we are tapping his funds a little earlier this year.”

“I wanted you to know that,” he added, addressing the associate commissioners, “as we head into budgeting.”

Iron County has too many prisoners to house locally so some are taken to Wayne County until trial.

Christina Dinkins, legislative assistant to Rep. Jim Neely and to the former State Rep. Paul Fitzwater, and an announced candidate to run for District 144 Representative next year, was in attendance and offered a comment in response to the delay in reimbursement by the state: “How hard do you want to push on that because evidently we are the only state that does reimbursement, so it is pretty much said you are going to get it later or not at all.”

“I don’t really buy that,” said Southern District Associate Commissioner Dwayne Warncke. “Our bills 

are due and their bills are due.”

“No, I mean other states are not reimbursing the counties at all for the prisoners.” Dinkins replied. “I don’t want to push them to the point you don’t get anything at all.”

“So, they want to put the responsibility back to the local taxpayers for boarding the state’s prisoners?” said Scaggs. “I have a pretty strong response to whoever gave you that message. You can tell them that Jim Scaggs, presiding commissioner of Iron County, said it would be a cold day.  I will shut this courthouse down. Chris, we cannot put that $100,000 per year burden on our taxpayers here.  We cannot afford it. So, whoever gave you that message please carry my message back to them. They will bankrupt this county.

“I know their intent is to put this responsibility back to the counties because Kansas is doing it, right?”

“All the states are,” Dinkins replied. “Missouri is the only one that is reimbursing from what I have heard.”

“It is Missouri’s laws people are breaking,” said Western District Commissioner Josh Campbell. “It is not our county’s laws.”

“They will put these rural counties completely out of business,” Scaggs said. “I don’t understand.  It isn’t that we are asking for reimbursements for the person who does not get sent to the Department of Corrections. The reimbursement rate that they owe us is for people who have violated state and federal crimes, according to the Missouri Statutes. If you want to know my true opinion - the state ought to be funding the prisons and the jails at the local level because it is state law that we are enforcing - not county laws. They should be paying for the jailers, they should be paying for the jails, they should be paying for the food.”

“I agree,” replied Dinkins.

“So, please carry my message back to them,” Scaggs said. “Once we begin a fight between the counties and the state, we are in trouble. We cannot be adversaries.”

“They are frustrated, too, because they don’t have the money either,” Dinkins said.  “They are in the same boat you are. They are not getting money to give to you, just as you are not getting money to give to Wayne County. The Legislature has not allocated the funds (for the Missouri Department of Corrections.)  We are a year behind the budget each time so when our crimes increase and they are looking at the year before....”

“When we were $19 million in the hole last fiscal year, the (state) budget committee knew they had $19 million in backlogged payments.  Did they appropriate money for that backlog? No, they did not  So, it is the legislators fault. It is not the Department of Correction’s fault. It is not the County Commission’s fault.  It is not the Sheriff’s fault. It is not the Prosecutor’s fault. We have done our job. People have broken the law. Roger has arrested them, (Prosecuting Attorney Brian Parker) Brian has prosecuted them, he took them to court, paid jurors,  sent them to jail and we have had to pay. Am I going to scream loud?  You bet.”

“There are only so many funds to dig from,” Dinkins said. “You can’t allocate something you don’t have.”

Scaggs replied: “And that is where the 25 percent corporate income tax came into play last year, wasn’t it.

“If they want to compare, the state of Maryland owns all the county jails. They fund them.  They fund the prosecutor. They fund the sheriff.

“We will get through this year, I think. If we get another $30,000 - $40,000 reimbursed, we should be okay.  The $28,000 may have moved up because of your (Dinkins) letter-writing campaign. I hope that had some effect on it. But I want to reiterate, if they want to find out what our real issues are, they need to come down and meet with the Circuit Clerk.”

In other action, the commission:

•Heard the first reading of a bill that would establish a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program in the county.  The move will allow the county to join a St. Louis consortium that enables doctors and pharmacists to track the sale of opioid drugs.