MONROE - The federal agency that footed the bill for nearly half of Monroe County's inmate dormitory has been slow to pay its bills and fill up the facility, the jail administrator says.
That has caused problems with the county budget at a time when the sheriff is studying whether to expand the 160-bed minimum-security dormitory to house more prisoners, administrator Ken Sieg said.
He told commissioners last week that the facility averaged only 60 Immigration and Naturalization Services detainees a day in 2001. The county had budgeted the dormitory to house 80 INS detainees a day. The facility was built in 2000 near the Horizon Outlet Center.
The lower-than-expected daily average of detainees, Mr. Sieg said, has caused revenues to fall from the budgeted level of $1.7 million to about $1.29 million - a $411,000 shortfall.
The county has experienced delays of several months in receiving payment from the INS for detainees it houses in the dorm and the downtown Monroe County Jail. Only two weeks ago, the county received payment for services it provided to the INS nearly a year ago, Mr. Sieg said.
While the facility has been at or above capacity since July, the county had counted on the $411,000 as part of its already stretched $40.1 million budget this year, county officials said.
“We've been struggling to come up with the funds to make up that shortfall,” county Administrator Charlie Londo told county commissioners last week.
But while revenues from the INS were about $411,000 less in 2001 than Mr. Londo had projected, Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield said commissioners shouldn't be surprised that there was a shortfall.
There was never any expectation that the facility would be completely full from Jan. 1, 2001, the sheriff said.
“We started accepting INS detainees in November , but it took until July  to get up to full speed. The INS is a bureaucracy, and it moves very slowly,” Sheriff Crutchfield said. “But the dormitory has been full since last April, and in 2002, at the current rate we're going, we're going to have a surplus of between $400,000 and $500,000 over what was budgeted.”
Sheriff Crutchfield said his two jails now accommodate anywhere from 100 to 120 INS detainees a day, enough to keep it comfortably above the levels called for in the county's 10-year contract with the INS, which gave the county a $3.5 million grant for its $7.4 million new dormitory.
But while the county's fiscal concerns are likely to work out over time, the sheriff said his office is studying ways to add onto the facility in Monroe Charter Township.
“We need more space,” the sheriff said. The average daily population of the downtown jail alone has skyrocketed to 282 prisoners, with another 160 local and INS prisoners being held at the new jail.
“We've got them stacked all over the place,” Mr. Sieg said.
The sheriff said he expects to present a proposal to the county board within the next several months to add at least one more building onto the current dorm that would be built to house up to medium-security prisoners.
The cost of adding onto the facility would be significantly less than what the county paid to build the dormitory largely because most of the infrastructure is in place and was put there with the knowledge that the county would be expanding the facility in the near future.
Still, any addition would likely be a significant expenditure - the cost of the empty shell similar to the one that serves as the dorm is about $500,000 alone - and the final decision would ultimately rest with the county board, the sheriff said.
“Sheriff's don't build jails, county boards do. We just provide them with the statistics to allow them to make intelligent decisions,” Sheriff Crutchfield said.
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