By jeanne starmack
City leaders are not happy about Mahoning County’s decision to start sending bills for the city’s prisoners who transfer to the county jail.
The county commissioners authorized the prosecutor’s office last month to file a lawsuit to collect $70,000 from the city for prisoner stays in 2011 and 2012.
The commissioners said they want to work out a deal with the city so they don’t have to file a suit. Under state law, the county can charge a daily rate for prisoners who are charged with crimes under the city code. Campbell sends prisoners from its own jail to the county jail after 12 days. It also sends women because it has no way to house them.
Campbell leaders said at a meeting last month that the county never charged for prisoners until now.
“They are billing through the end of September for 799 prisoner days, and of these, 586 are for probation violations,” said city law director Brian Macala.
“Seventy-three percent of what the county is coming after us for is because someone didn’t do what the court wanted,” he continued. “When somebody gets picked up and we can’t hold them, they go downtown. What the county is coming after us for is not for original offenses. They are coming after us because people have been given a break.”
Macala said the county’s decision to charge the city daily jail rates could influence whether people serve sentences after probation violations.
The court might be forced to consider the costs before sending someone to the jail, he said.
City administrator Jack Dill pointed out the city has been strapped for money.
“We’re coming out of fiscal emergency next month,” he said.
He also said he didn’t understand why the city of Struthers decided to pay after the county billed it.
Tina Morell, Struthers auditor, said the city is paying its bill on the advice of its law director.
She said the county began billing the city a year ago, and she estimated the bills amounted to between $5,000 and $6,000 for the year.
Morell said that she makes sure the city is being billed for prisoners that are actually charged by the city. Struthers Municipal Court handles cases from five jurisdictions, and the first prisoner for whom the city was billed was from Poland Township, she said. She didn’t pay it.
She also said the Struthers jail has the option of releasing prisoners for 24 hours after 12 days, then they return to finish a longer sentence for $50 a day.
But if a prisoner can’t afford the daily stay at Struthers’ jail, he or she is sent to the county’s jail for a stay that typically ranges between $70 and $80 a day.
“I have to pay $70 a day so they can stay at county,” she said.
Struthers Mayor Terry Stocker said the county is looking for revenues like everywhere else.
“Though I disagree, I understand why they’re doing it,” said Morell.