Close city jail?Published 12:01pm Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Council weighs costs, issues with closing the City Jail
The Hartselle City Council is exploring the possibility of closing the city jail, a move that could save the city as much as $42,000 a year.
Police Chief Ron Puckett said during a work session Monday night that one of the two jailers retired at the beginning of the year. He then asked the council for approval to hire a replacement.
Before the council makes that decision, Mayor Don Hall said he wanted to get a cost analysis of closing the city jail and allowing the Morgan County Jail to house all of the city’s inmates.
Currently, all municipalities outside of Hartselle and Decatur use the Morgan County Jail to house inmates. That includes Falkville, which until this year has used the Hartselle Police Department to house its inmates.
“We looked into that because we lost the revenue from Falkville after they switched to the county earlier this year,” Hall said. “We wanted to explore all alternatives – the cost, the advantages and the disadvantages – before we fill that vacant position. It would likely be a cost savings to close some disadvantages.”
In the 2013-2014 budget, the cost of two full-time plus housing the inmates costs was expected to be $111,100. The revenue received from Falkville was only $12,300 in 2012-2013 and $2,725 for this fiscal year.
Based on estimates given to other municipalities and Hartselle’s inmate population from last year, Hall anticipated that the annual contract with the county would cost about $18,000. He suggested that the other jailer could be kept on staff for prisoner transportation, leaving the total cost for prisoner housing at $69,100, which is a projected savings of $42,000.
Puckett said one of the disadvantages of turning prisoner housing over to the county is that it could lead to fewer on-duty officers being in Hartselle, especially during the overnight hours.
“We have a minimum of three officers on duty at all times,” Puckett said. “If one of those officers had to take someone to jail, that could leave us with one less officer on the roads protecting our citizens.”
While Councilman Ken Doss said he understands the disadvantages, he said the council has to investigate the financial side of the decision.
One other possibility that Hall had was to allow the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department to use the closed city jail for holding prisoners from the outlying areas of the county.
“Sheriff Ana Franklin mentioned that she would be interested in using our jail as a holding area for people who were arrested in southern and eastern portions of the county,” Hall said. “Once they had enough prisoners, they would then transport the prisoners to the county jail in one van trip.
“I don’t have any specifics on that. That is very preliminary, but it’s something we’d be willing to investigate.”
Instead of closing the jail, Councilman Tom Chappell suggested that the city explore the idea of leasing space in the city jail for the county to help supplement the city jail’s expenses.
“Hartselle is more centrally to the county than Decatur,” Chappell said. “It makes sense that you might want to have a holding area for prisoners from the outlying areas of the county.”
City Clerk Rita Lee mentioned that not replacing the retired jailer would almost equal the savings that the city would get if it chose to go with the county. The police department has managed the jail with one jailer since the other retired in January.
Puckett objected to that as a long-term solution.
Council president Bill Smelser asked Puckett if they could wait at least to the next council meeting while the council considers the issue, which Puckett said they could.