Around 100 persons came to listen and express opinions about jail closing, dispatch moving.
(Clinton, KY – April 15, 2014) –The Hickman County Detention Center (aka “the jail”) has been sitting on death row for the past month. That’s about the time when the news leaked out that the jail would be closed by the Hickman County Fiscal Court at its April meeting.
Rumors of an April execution turned out to be premature.
The jail was granted a reprieve last night by the Fiscal Court based upon new information about setting a salary for the incoming Hickman County jailer. Previously, Judge Greg Pruitt believed that the Court must decide between the higher salary for a full time jailer managing a full time jail and a part time transportation officer whose sole duty is to get prisoners to another detention facility.
Pruitt informed a crowd of 100 at the April meeting of Fiscal Court that Kentucky Association of Counties legal advisers told him that crafting a provision to lower the salary could be part of the county budget.
The three member Hickman County Fiscal Court didn’t delay in passing a motion that grants the higher salary, but will lower it should the jail close. While the facility got a temporary stay from the Court, at least one member, Ricky DeWeese, told the crowd he could see no way to keep it open. Other members of the Court didn’t telegraph their future intentions.
Tommy Roberts, who is not running for re-election said that he needs time to consider the numbers. To members of the Hickman County Rescue Squad, he said that he knew they need equipment. He said that the Rescue Squad is essential to continued ambulance service.
Photo below: Hickman County Rescue Squad members in attendance.
“None of us want to close it. But we want to make Hickman County financially solid.” Roberts said.
The question of the jail remaining open is complicated by the location of the dispatch center within the jail. Prior to the building of the jail, dispatch was located at the ambulance center. Should the jail close, a decision must be made on dispatch. A decision will also be necessary on ambulance service which is managed by a separate board which is also costing the county around $10,000 monthly.
County Judge Pruitt spent the majority of the meeting explaining a handout that laid out three funding alternatives. If the present situation continues, Pruitt predicts a cost to the county of $696,119 for the next year. If the jail closes and dispatch stays, the county will be out $440,559. If jail and dispatch move, the cost to the county will be $344,161.
Jailer Chad Frizzell, who is running to replace Pruitt, disputed the Judge’s figures. He questioned the projected number of 25 state prisoners used by Judge Pruitt. Frizzell’s projected budget used 35 state prisoners as a basis. Pruitt explained that his estimates were “conservative.”
City councilman Ivan Potter said that he believed that the budget presented did not follow state law because it was not jointly prepared by the judge, treasurer and jailer (KRS 441.215) He expressed concern that deliberations of the Fiscal Court took place out of a public forum – a violation of state open meetings law. He said that receiving a letter from Judge Pruitt advising that Clinton's share of dispatch would more than double its previous share of dispatch the weekend before the Monday council meeting disturbed him.
Pruitt retorted that “Ivan, I don’t know when the Council meets.”
Dispatcher Terri Workman told the Fiscal Court that it would be a matter of life or death to have dispatch moved to another county. She said that another county handling local dispatch would “put their own first.”
Audience members questioned the Fiscal Court on the use of a payroll tax passed several years ago. Some believed that it was to be used solely for the jail. Pruitt told them the money went into the general fund. He denied that the tax was sold to the public as a way to pay off the million dollar jail debt.
While the jail got a stay, it is by no means a pardon. The Fiscal Court meets again on May 5th and the subject will come up again. It must. They have to budget for the coming fiscal year at the June meeting. Pruitt said there will be a budget session in mid-May.
Sheriff Mark Green asked the Court to consider upgraded computer equipment for his office. It’s four years old and cannot handle the new software available to law enforcement. He also told the crowd that the jail’s financial problems come from passage of House Bill 463 in the 2011 session of the General Assembly.
Green had his own ax to grind about HB 463. Offenders are not incarcerated under the new law they didn't get prior to its passage.
Drug offenders get out of court and arrive home before “I get to my office to get the paperwork done.” Green said, obviously angry. “It makes you want to quit. But we won’t do that.”
Pruitt also blamed the Kentucky Legislature for the jail’s problems. Since passage of HB 463, fewer state prisoners are being sent to the Hickman County Detention Center. That removes a big income source. State prisoners are going to Fulton County’s Detention Center which has a contract to provide drug rehabilitation.
The short reprieve may be enough time for supporters of the local jail to muster facts to support keeping the facility open. It may provide them with enough time to argue that a new county judge executive, a new fiscal court and a new jailer should be the ones solving the budgeting issues of the jail, dispatch, ambulance service and the sheriff’s office.