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Council likely to close jail

Published 3:41pm Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Council to consider approving contract to send inmates to county jail

The Hartselle City Council appears to have enough support to enter into a contract with Morgan County and the Sheriff’s Department to house the city’s inmates at a cost of $23 per inmate a day and close the city jail.

The move is suggested to save the city as much as $42,000 in employee salaries, inmate meals, inmate and potential insurance costs.

While the majority of the council supported the measure, Councilman Tom Chappell said he’s had more calls about the city jail than any other issue.

“After being a city councilman for 10 years, this has jumped all the way to the top of the list,” Chappell said. “Most of them are not in favor of (closing the jail).”

Council President Bill Smelser said he has had a number of calls about the city jail as well. However, only one of those calls was in opposition of closing the jail.

“Most of them have said to me that we should do whatever is in the best interests of the city,” Smelser said.

The contract with the county states that the city will be charged $20 per inmate each day at the county jail plus $3 a day for meals.

Currently, the city is operating its city jail with only one jailer after another jailer retired earlier this year. Instead of replacing the jailer, Mayor Don Hall suggested closing the jail and sending the inmates to the county facility as a cost savings for the city.

It was suggested that the city continue to operate the jail with one jailer. However, Police Chief Ron Puckett said at a previous meeting he wouldn’t want to operate a jail permanently with one jailer and would rather close the jail if the jailer wasn’t replaced.

When the jail closes, Puckett said the current jailer would be reassigned.

“The jailer would become a prisoner transport officer and have other duties that we haven’t decided on as of yet,” Puckett said. “We will find him something to do.”

Hall said the city would still be liable for medical treatments for any inmates, but Puckett said some of the medical costs could be reduced due to the county jail’s infirmary.

“They have a great infirmary and a doctor that comes by,” Puckett said. “That would reduce the amount of our medical expenses.”

If an inmate had to go to a medical facility, Puckett said the city would either have to transport the inmate or release them.

With the move, Chappell asked if closing the jail should be coupled with moving dispatch operations to Morgan County 911. However, Puckett said dispatch and the city’s five dispatchers would be unchanged.

Puckett said the city received 30,000 direct calls through dispatch a year and only 2,000 calls that are transferred from the 911 office.

“We would still dispatch just like we’re doing right now,” Puckett said. “We still need someone to meet and greet the public at the police station. That will be one of their jobs. We’d like to have someone to deal with the public 24-seven.”

In addition, City Clerk Rita Lee said the city would still have to take bail money, which could be something a dispatcher could do when city hall is closed.

The council’s final decision will be made during a council meeting tonight.

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