County discusses mid-year budget issues; sheriff calls for more correctional officers

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – Through the first half of this fiscal year, Shelby County has collected $313,143 less in general fund revenues than it had hoped.

The county has collected $34.2 million of the budgeted $34.5 million.

County Finance Manager Butch Burbage gave county commissioners an overview of the county’s budget from October 2010 through March 2011 during a work session following Monday night’s commission meeting.

The good news, Burbage told them, is that revenues are very close to what was budgeted. The bad news, he said, is that revenues haven’t increased much from last year. He described revenues as “stagnant.”

Shelby County Manager Alex Dudchock asked commissioners to consider awarding one-time bonuses to full-time county employees.

He suggested a lump sum payment of $400,000, distributed based on employee tenure ranging from $500 for six months to 10 years, $600 for 10-20 year employees and $700 for 20-plus years. His suggested payment date was Aug. 1.

“The formula and the format of that is your pleasure,” Dudchock said, noting that his suggested formula was a result of some commissioners asking how it could be done. “Ponder it over. You’ve got plenty of time.”

Sheriff Chris Curry, meanwhile, asked commissioners to consider letting him hire 10 additional correctional officers and suggested the county lower the price from $44 to $40 per day to house federal inmates.

Curry said the county is missing out on revenue from housing federal inmates because it is charging too much to house them.

In late 2008, Curry said he talked to local U.S. Marshals who manage the federal inmate program and negotiated a 21 percent rate increase – from $32 to $40. Curry said he had a contract in early 2009 to house federal inmates for $40 per day per inmate, which he said would have raised up to an additional $350,000 on the then-existing inmate population.

Curry said Dudchock then went and negotiated a $44 rate with Marshals officials in Washington D.C., a rate Curry said was too high.

“We became the most expensive place in the Northern District in Alabama to house a federal prisoner,” Curry said, adding that the Marshals service began sending federal inmates elsewhere to counties charging less money.

“Our revenue went down because inmates were transferred elsewhere,” Curry said.

Dudchock told commissioners that if they didn’t want him negotiating such fees then they would need to change their resolutions. He said commissioners had directed him not to subsidize federal inmates being housed at the jail.

“If you do not want that,” Dudchock said of negotiating the fees, “I welcome that and you can pass a resolution.”

Curry asked commissioners to let him hire 10 additional correctional officers, go back to the Marshals service and renegotiate the contract for $40 per federal inmate. Curry said he likely can’t get it back to 120 federal inmates but could, through the course of several months, get back to housing 80 or so federal inmates.

Either way, he said he has to hire the 10 additional correction officers at the jail.

“We can operate an overcrowded, adequately staffed facility safely,” Curry said. “We cannot operate an overcrowded, understaffed facility safely.”

The commission took no action during the work session.