Jail Board Passes Budget

Published 4:29 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2013

CUMBERLAND – The jail is expected to cost the six participating localities approximately $1.9 million dollars, split between them according to usage, over the next fiscal year, according to the budget passed by the Piedmont Regional Jail Board during a May 22 meeting.

The cost to localities was predicted in the approved budget by dividing the shortfall in revenue between the participating localities according to the current calculated percentage of usage.

The approved budget predicted the amount needed from each county for the upcoming year, with Cumberland at $152,349, Buckingham at just over a quarter of a million dollars and Prince Edward at almost three-quarters of a million dollars. The percentages were based on the actual usage of the counties during the first quarter of this year.

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All predictions of expenses and revenue are based on the current number of prisoners, according to Gloria Giles, jail board secretary and administrative assistant at the jail.

However, nothing is set in stone. There are many areas of possible fluctuation in the upcoming year, which could lower or raise the estimated contribution from localities.

The jail's budget is taking center stage as participating localities are beginning to pay for the regional jail, which, up until now, had been self-supporting. Due to revenue generated by housing a large number of federal and state responsible inmates, as well as inmates from other jurisdictions, the localities were able to house their own inmates for free over the last 20 years.

The balanced budget includes almost $9 million in revenue, 21 percent of which is expected to come from the six participating localities.

The localities were going to have to contribute more. Initially, their cost was expected to be $2.2 million, but Toney announced that several items decreased the amount of the local share needed.

One of these, Toney announced, was a partial exemption from the cost of federal overhead recovery.

Also, during the meeting, he told the board that due to inquiries made by The Herald, an error made by the Virginia Compensation Board was also corrected. The error had led to the jail being overcharged approximately $70,000 each quarter by the compensation board.

In all, the jail expects to receive almost a third of its revenue from the state, the majority of which is due to the payment of salaries for constitutional officers.

The jail also expects to receive over a half a million dollars from housing prisoners for Powhatan and Culpeper counties.

The newly approved budget estimates expenditures of $8,924,000, approximately $180,000 less than the current budget, as listed in the board packet.

The jail's largest expense in the budget is for personnel. Salary and employee benefits combined total over 66 percent of the expected cost to run the jail. The approved budget includes a three percent raise and benefit adjustment for employees.

Giles explained that the three percent raise, effective August 1, for constitutional officers and their staff, was part of the Governor's budget and was funded partially through the compensation board.

Of the 122 staff members at the jail, Giles explained, over 90 of them are officers who are eligible for the raise required by the compensation board. As has been their practice, she explained, the jail is also providing the raise for the remaining staff.

However, the amount budgeted for salaries remains almost unchanged from the previous year's budget.

“We tried to be as careful with this budget as we could,” said Giles, “But, everything is revenue driven with this budget…If we have less prisoners, then our revenue drops.”

She pointed out that any fluctuation in prisoners would be especially related to the number of federal inmates.

In the past, Piedmont Regional Jail Superintendent Ernest Toney had explained that the number of federal inmate prisoners had dropped due to an inquiry that was conducted by the Department of Justice.

However, Toney is optimistic that once negotiations are completed with the Department of Justice, the number of federal inmate prisoners will increase. If this occurs during the upcoming year, the cost to localities could be lower than predicted in the budget.

There are other factors that could cause the cost of the jail for localities to fluctuate in the upcoming year.

One large increase in expense to the jail's budget, in relation to last year, is in connection to medical costs.

Budget Busters

During the meeting last week, Toney announced a recent development that, according to him, could potentially negatively affect the budget.

He stated that according to the Code of Virginia, the prison is not responsible for medical expenses associated with a prisoner's pre-existing conditions.

However, he said that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has given an opinion, which states, “in the event of emergency treatment or life-or-death treatment” medical costs are the responsibility of the localities.

“I don't have to tell y'all that this could be a budget buster,” Toney said.

The jail has received a bill from the debt collection division of the Attorney General's office on behalf of the University of Virginia Medical Center (UVAMC), dated May 17. It requested the jail write a check in the amount of $40,349.32, which includes the cost of medical services given to an inmate and attorney's fees between UVAMC and the Attorney General's office.

Toney explained that the particular prisoner the bill refers to came into the facility with stage four cancer and was going to the hospital on a regular basis. In the past, he explained, the jail received a bill, which it disputed, saying it was the prisoner's bill and not their responsibility.

According to the letter, if the jail does not pay the bill within 30 days, a lawsuit will be filed.

Toney went on to explain that at the time of the meeting, there were several prisoners who were receiving medical treatment for various issues, which were costly to the jail. He gave the example of a prisoner in his 80's whom he stated was in jail for trespassing.

That prisoner slipped and fell in the jail, breaking his hip. He was sent to the hospital for surgery on the hip, according to Toney, at great cost to the jail.

“We can do everything we can to try to keep our costs down. And we're watching every penny we spend, but these things right here, can be devastating to a budget,” Toney said.

After discussing the possibility of seeking legal counsel or another Attorney General's opinion, the board voted to allow Toney to seek remedy for the medical bills.

In the approved budget, the jail is tripling the amount set aside to pay for dental and hospital care for inmates from last year, raising it from $60,000 to $190,000.