Despite sheriff’s objections, commission approves cut in jail food budget

By NICOLE LOGGINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA — Despite Sheriff Chris Curry’s objections, the Shelby County Commission unanimously approved a resolution March 26 to reduce the allotted meal reimbursement rate per Shelby County Jail inmate per day from $3 to $1.75.

The commission cut the budget due to $200,000 in excessive funds in the Inmate Food Account. The state mandates that the meal reimbursement rate be at least $1.75.

“We found out what the fund balance was and that (Curry) had withdrawn a payment for personal income out of the account,” said Alex Dudchock, county manager.

Dudchock said the County Commission isn’t questioning state law, which allows the sheriff to take excess funds from the meal account for personal use.

Dudchock said the meal reimbursement rate had been $3 because Curry had said that was a typical meal reimbursement rate.
Curry said losing $1.25 per inmate per day would affect his ability to meet federal requirements.

“The sheriff is the only elected official in the state of Alabama that has a personal financial liability to his duties,” Curry said.

“That liability is that (the sheriff has) to feed the inmates in the county jail under the conditions set by federal courts.”

Curry said his office and the County Commission entered into a contract in 2004 agreeing that $3 would be the meal reimbursement rate.

“Three dollars is not unusual, not unreasonable,” he said.
Curry said he provided information that a balance of $200,000 had accumulated in the Inmate Food Account over several years.

“If I pay the food bills based on what they are right now, with inmate population and food costs where they are, I personally owe somewhere between $800,000 and $900,000 before this term is over,” Curry said.

None of the commissioners asked for any information about feeding prisoners, Curry said. Also, none of the commissioners have ever seen food preparation at the jail, he added.

“They made a decision based off of numbers they looked at without having any real basis or knowledge of what those numbers represent,” he said.

Dudchock said the County Commission simply made a smart financial decision.

“The county commission was disappointed to learn that the amount that they had set was in fact greater than what was needed to pay the inmates,” Dudchock said. “Therefore they took affirmative action to set it at the level of $1.75.”

Curry said the situation was the result of a power struggle.

“We’re struggling with control. This is about being in control,” Curry said.