Cities owe county $78,000 for inmate housing and care, County Judge says

Monday, June 28, 2004

BERRYVILLE ---- Quorum Court members grappled with a sticky situation when told that the cities of Green Forest, Berryville and Eureka Springs hadn't paid for inmate care at the county jail the past two years.

At a special Ordinance 93-15 Committee meeting on Tuesday, County Judge Mike Botelho said state auditors questioned unpaid balances totaling nearly $80,000.

According to figures presented, Green Forest owes $31,375; Berryville $35,749; and Eureka Springs $11,787.

Botelho made it clear that he wanted to negotiate an agreement that everyone could live with because there was obviously a misunderstanding.

At the time that Phil Jackson was county judge, he went to city leaders in each of the towns to sell a county-wide tax initiative to support the construction and operation of a new jail.

City leaders in Green Forest, Berryville and Eureka Springs were led to believe that they would not be required to pay for housing prisoners in the county jail if the jail tax passed. It did, and payments ceased, although payments should have continued.

Ordinance 93-15, enacted by the Quorum Court in 1993, states "municipalities shall pay $25 per day to Carroll County for the care, housing and feeding of their prisoners."

According to Committee Chairman Ken Drezinski, the county has a fiduciary responsibility to collect the unpaid balances, which will go into the county general fund.

Botelho said the Quorum Court can amend the ordinance to eliminate future payments, but in the meantime, the current situation needs to be rectified before the new jail opens.

Persons arrested by municipal police are the responsibility of the municipality until they are either released from jail or charged with a felony, at which time they become county property.

Medical costs for prisoners was discussed briefly. It was decided that those are minimal.

Also on the agenda was another unpaid balance of $25,360 owed by the city of Green Forest for its share of county dispatching.

County ordinance 99-21 states that Berryville and Green Forest are each to pay one-half of one dispatcher position. Berryville is paid to date. Green Forest is not.

It was also noted that the original fee of $634 per month, established in 1999, is still being collected, although this amount is less than the cost of one-half dispatcher position in 2004.

The committee decided to set the dispatcher issue aside for now and concentrate on unpaid prisoner housing balances.

The committee is set to meet again next month.

"Out of this committee should come a plan of action to present to the Quorum Court before it's presented to the cities," suggested Drezinski.

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