TO: Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors
FROM: John W. McCarthy
In this year’s budget cover memo, I discuss in passing the financial planning for the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail. As you are aware, the jail will open on July 1, with a series of consequences for our local operations.
Obviously, first and most significantly there will be a substantial reduction in activity in our jail building, whose long term use we will evaluate in the coming year. In addition, there will be an evolution in Buildings and Grounds services from trustee-provided services to a staffed position.
I want to focus for a moment on longer term financial impacts. The reductions in spending on the jail, coupled with reductions in payments to the county from the Compensation Board and new spending directed toward RSW for our locally-responsible prisoners, will result in budget impacts.
For this first year of operations at RSW, debt service costs were capitalized so that the institution could work out operational kinks and be in good shape for its first year of debt service, commencing in fiscal year (FY) 2016.
There are several issues that work in our favor. First, the prisoner population in Warren and to a lesser extent Shenandoah counties is well in excess of what was expected when the financial planning was done, while ours is at the level or just below that expected. This has the effect of lowering our proportional share of all costs (including debt service). You will recall that per diems are calculated on a three-year “look back” average, so this trend helps us considerably.
Second, the superintendent has great experience in operating jails that house both short-term (local and state) and contract (largely state and federal) prisoner populations. Our intention is to keep the jail as full as possible as the unneeded (by the partners) bed space will act to subsidize operations. This will likely not yield results until six months or more after opening, but by July 2015 we should have some idea of the true annual cost we are likely to see going forward.
I still have no final guidance from the State Compensation Board as to additional funds that were promised for the sheriff to provide court services. If you think about the functions of the court, prisoners will be transported by RSW to the local courts (we are modifying the back room on the courthouse now for this purpose) for hearings, trials, sentencing and the like, so while we will need no jailers per se, we will need more security/bailiff positions and as part of the process, Warren was promised four such, Shenandoah three and Rappahannock two.
I have no documented funding for this, and so to a certain extent I am taking it on faith. Total reimbursement from the compensation board for FY13 was $690,000 and, effective July 1, will likely fall to $350,000 due to all of the correctional and support positions being reduced. Based on the average counts provided by the Sheriff to Davenport, we can expect charges of $371-$391,022 to the RSW for our prisoners.
There are still some “jail” costs that will be relict in the county budget (electrical, cleaning supplies, heating, etc.) amounting to $28,450; this category is also where I have created a new line item for “RSW Regional Jail Charges” mentioned above.
Sheriff/jail total spending for FY13 was $2,023,509 ($1,123,721 and $899,788, respectively). When you subtract from revenues a number of charges for services and recovered costs of $25,282 (work release, inmate phones and the like) and what I estimate to be (see above) $340,000 in categorical aid from the Commonwealth (now gone with the closure of our jail), I arrive at $1,658,227. Finally, from this you then subtract what we will be paying RSW, approximately $375,000, leaving a net in round numbers of $1,300,000 of spending.
Anything more than this is effectively “new” money, or funding for positions that the county will henceforth absorb. In the budget I shared with the sheriff, I proposed to add approximately $170,000 in additional spending, but substantially less than she has requested. While clarification from the SCB may result in more revenue than I expect, it will surely not fill the gap she seeks.
You have some choices to make, assuming you want to get the sheriff the funds she is requesting. First, increase taxes beyond the 4-cent increase I am proposing, understanding that a penny on the rate is about $140,000 at present. I understand this may be unacceptable, so I turn your attention to the 2 cents (of the four) that I propose to both pre-fund the debt service on the Regional Jail and (in the interim) to restore some lost traction on the general fund surplus.
This number, as elaborated upon above, is dependent upon the experience of the RSW as it actually evolves; our debt service share both due to occupancy as a proportion of the shares of our partners and as a proportion of overall contracted occupancy may well be below this figure; I candidly think that it will be. But I cannot guarantee it, so if you use one any of that money for the purpose of Sheriff’s Office costs, you know that those expenses will stay there, and you may have to add one or more cents next year for that purpose.