By Marian Galbraith, staff writer
Opening and operating costs for the new Coffee County Jail and the new county middle school may cost county taxpayers as much as $3.7 million, according to members of the Coffee County budget and finance committee.
While the currently overcrowded and run-down jail facility, which was decertified by the state in recent years, costs about $2.6 million per year to operate, Sheriff Steve Graves said the new facility could cost the county as much as $4.6 – $5.2 million, depending on whether the old jail is kept open for use as a workhouse and potential work release program.
Most of the additional $2-$2.5 million, Graves said, would be for recurring salaries, benefits, training and personnel costs for as many as 36 new employees at the new and old jails combined.
While many of the details have yet to be worked out, he added that the estimates are based on mandated staffing levels currently required by state law.
At an earlier meeting, Graves and administrative assistant Sandy McKinney explained to the committee that they had come up with a minimum of roughly $1.6 million for new salaries, based on state requirements and recommendations for the current inmate population of 270.
Commissioner Rush Bricken and others asked why the new jail would cost twice as much to operate, per inmate, as the old one. At the current budget levels, Bricken pointed out, the cost is roughly $10,000 per inmate per year, while the new levels suggest twice that amount.
“One of the reasons our old jail is decertified right now is because of insufficient staffing levels for this many inmates,” Graves said. McKinney added that the state might not certify the new jail if the new mandated staffing levels are not met.
“If we don’t get the new jail certified to open this fall, the cost to farm out our inmates to other jails is about $75 per day, per inmate,” McKinney said, “and we are also subject to lawsuits (if we’re not certified).”
Another problem Graves and McKinney cited was the inmate medical costs which continue to spiral out of control due to massive overcrowding at the current jail, which leads to violence, injuries and hospitalization.
“We can have as many as 30 to 40 inmates in a cell at times,” Graves said, “while the new jail will have only two inmates to a cell, so those costs should go down.”
McKinney added that there are currently 2,000 on county probation at this time, and that if any of these people violate their parole, they could also be sent back to jail.
“Right now the courts are being lenient about it because they know the existing jail is overcrowded,” she said, “but they might not be as lenient once the new jail is open.”
Graves agreed, stating that he expects an increase in inmates for parole violations once the new jail is open, but that he also hopes to have a work release program, which will generate revenues for the county and reduce jail times for inmates who work while incarcerated.
McKinney added that the workhouse and work release programs, which would operate out of the old jail facility if it is kept open, would generate revenues of least $300,000 for the county, but since these revenues are not fully determined, they are not figured into budget estimates at this time.
Bricken then requested that a representative from the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) attend the next Jail Review Committee Meeting to explain the state’s staffing and other requirements.
This meeting has since been scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26 at the Coffee County Administrative Plaza at 1329 McArthur Dr., Manchester, and Bob Bass of TCI is scheduled to attend.
After the jail discussion was concluded, county schools director Dr. Ladonna McFall stated that the new middle school would require an additional $610,000 per year for the county to operate.
“That figure is based on utilities of about $250,000 a year, new personnel costs of about $260,000, and possibly a new bus for $100,000,” she said.
Bricken added that this amount would have to be doubled to $1.2 million, per state law, and distributed to the city schools systems in Tullahoma and Manchester.
“Under our current system of having three separate school systems, the state requires that any new money for one school system has to also be distributed to the other two systems based on average daily attendance, or ADA,” he said.
Since the county’s ADA is roughly 50 percent of the total school attendance, the $610,000 would have to be doubled, and the other half would be distributed to the Tullahoma and Manchester schools, which make up about 35 and 15 percent of the total, respectively.
Before the meeting adjourned, McFall made it a point to mention that, based on the level of students in the county system, it costs the county $6,000 per student to educate, compared with $10,000 per inmate to incarcerate.
Marian Galbraith can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.