Dwindling jail revenues could affect the entire county budget.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Lawrence County commissioners are taking a hard look at this year's budget and trying to determine if they will have enough money to pay all the bills by year's end.
Commissioners put a hold on some budget transfers requested by the sheriff, coroner and the district attorney's office because they are unsure there will be money available come November and December to cover other costs.
Some problems stem from a bare-bones budget the commissioners passed in December to avoid a tax increase and also a recent drop in revenue from the Lawrence County Jail.
The county expected to earn about $1 million housing prisoners from other counties, but in the last month there was a dramatic decrease in the number of out-of-county prisoners in the jail.
The jail averages about 55 out-of-county prisoners, mostly from Butler, Beaver and Mercer counties, earning $55 per inmate, per day.
Commissioner Brian Burick, prison board president, said that number dropped dramatically in June when Butler and Beaver housed no prisoners in Lawrence County. The county made only about $18,000 last month from Mercer County and a private prisoner transport firm. The jail is expected to generate about $90,000 each month, he said.
Concern about inmates
One concern is that Lawrence County's own inmates are taking up too much space. Warden William Hall said Wednesday that he had 256 inmates, about 20 over capacity, and only 13 people were from other counties.
Burick added that jail expenses are higher than expected with increases in inmate medical care, groceries, kitchen supplies and wages of extra jail guards.
A shortfall in the projected inmate revenue will be a problem for the entire county because that money goes into the general fund to pay for other county services, he said.
Commissioner Roger DeCarbo proposed that some departments, including the sheriff, use money set aside for salaries to cover costs now and then lay off employees at the end of the year.
Sheriff Robert Clark said he can't lay off employees later in the year because he is under court order to transport jail inmates. He is seeking $5,000 from the county's general fund to pay for travel and training of his deputies.
Clark noted that a recent court order sent down by President Judge Ralph Pratt requires him to immediately return state prisoners to their proper institutions after their business in Lawrence County is complete.
Clark said he had been waiting until he received two or three prisoners going to the same facility to make the trip more economical. The sheriff added he will likely need four more deputies to comply with the judge's order.