• 48°

City’s jail costs to jump nearly 40 percent

IRONTON — The city’s cost to house its prisoners at the Lawrence County Jail is set to zoom up nearly 40 percent.

Lawrence County Commissioners altered the existing 11-year agreement they had with the city to raise the daily rate Ironton paid for prisoner housing from $40 to $55 per day. Ironton City Council met to vote on the amended contract commissioners voted to change on March 12. The issue was tabled.

If accepted, the new contract would replace a prisoner housing agreement the county and city have had in place since Jan. 31, 1998.

Ironton, along with nearly every other municipality in Lawrence County has had a long-standing, housing agreement with the county where prisoners charged with municipal crimes can be detained in the Lawrence County Jail. Cities, like Ironton, do not pay the county for prisoners jailed for violating state statutes, only for those in jail for municipal code violations.

Mayor Rich Blankenship said the $15 per day increase “will have some impact on the city’s budget” but that it was a little too early to tell.

Finance Director Kristen Martin said that due to the unknown variable of possible detainees, the city’s police operating jail fund for the 2009 budget year should be able to handle the increase.

“This line item is well cushioned at this point,” Martin said.

The daily fee increase comes in the wake of the Lawrence County Jail feeling the pinch of overcrowding and funding cuts.

Outfitted with 52 beds, the jail routinely has more than 70 inmates at a time — mostly for felonies. Add to that, a 15-percent decrease in funding and Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless has been forced to do more with less.

Between maintenance, prisoners’ medical bills, food costs, electricity and other expenses, jails often cost counties more money than they take in.

Through the first four months of the year, Lawless has been forced to pay Scioto County more than $107,000 to house “overflow inmates” when the Lawrence County Jail is too full.

With $300,000 budgeted in 2009 for overflow inmates the county has already burnt through a third of its allotment.

Lawless did not immediately return messages left by The Tribune to his office and cell phone as to how the daily fee increase could soften the anticipated deficit.