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Dodge County Sheriff faces budget shortfall: Pod J closure leads to revenue drop

January 9, 2019

JUNEAU — Last month’s closure of one pod in the Dodge County Jail has created a projected shortfall of $490,000, Sheriff Dale Schmidt reported.

The shuttering of Pod J meant the loss of 108 beds in the facility that was built in 1959 and expanded 1977, forcing inmates elsewhere. A portion of the expansion, including the garages beneath it, is still used by the sheriff’s office.

Pod J beds were used by Huber work-release and other low-risk male prisoners. Starting in October, Pod J inmates were moved to the newer Dodge County Justice Facility across West Street, completed in 2000. Jail beds contracted out to house federal inmates were reduced to accommodate the transfer.

With the closure of Pod J, nine staff positions were cut, saving $1 million in personnel costs for 2019. However, the county lost a projected $3 million in revenue from federal contracts, leading to a budget increase of $2 million for this year.

The reduction in federal contracts has already hit the county’s bottom line, with the loss of $490,000 in revenue in 2018 as Pod J was scaled down in its final months of operation, Schmidt said. The facility was closed as of Dec. 17, in advance of a Dec. 31 deadline.

The budget impacts are a surprise to no one, least of all to Schmidt.

“The county board made the decision in July to close Pod J, and at that time we suggested leaving it open for a couple years so we could budget for the ramp-down and closure,” Schmidt said. “Unfortunately they chose the Dec. 31 date, which means a shortfall for our 2018 budget, which we predicted.

“It’s important to understand that we all wanted J closed. It was just a matter of how we were going to get there. Had we been allowed a couple of months leeway (until March or so), we could have budgeted for that. In fact, we would have still had a surplus in 2018, but that closure was fully responsible for putting us into the red.”

Schmidt was a strong proponent of expanding the jail, building either one pod at a cost of $13 million or two pods at a cost of $20 million. The costs would be covered by the county’s half-percent sales tax, which has been used for capital projects over several decades. In mid-July, a resolution to close Pod J was approved by the county board 25-8. At the same meeting, a resolution to oppose an addition to the jail (for the next five years of the capital improvements plan) passed 28-5.

“When we looked at the numbers, we have a $20 million figure for expansion and a $13 million figure for a 62-bed facility. Looking at a 20- to 25-year payoff, it just doesn’t make sense,” County Board Executive Committee Chairman Dennis Schmidt, who is not related to the sheriff, said at the time. “There’s no commitment from the federal government. They could pull out their prisoners tomorrow. The jail is sufficient to house our Huber prisoners without an addition. Yes, the sheriff’s department revenue will decrease, but there are other savings that aren’t being considered.”

The board recently approved an audit of the sheriff’s department, at a cost of $85,000. Schmidt predicts that the audit will find his budgetary forecasts to be true. He also predicts the audit will determine that more personnel are needed to complete the multitude of tasks managed by current staff members.

As sheriff, Schmidt has been an advocate for taking advantage of the ability to house prisoners from other jurisdictions to bring in revenue to the county.

“It costs a certain amount to run the jail, and the more contracted inmates we have the more we offset our operating expenses,” he said. “The more inmates we have, the less our cost per bed.”

Fluctuating numbers make determining bed costs difficult. Federal beds yield $75 a day. Probation and parole holds are reimbursed at $40 a day. State DOC beds are reimbursed at $51.26 a day.

“Federal beds really do help offset our costs,” Schmidt said. “In 2019, we are budgeting about 160 federal beds per day, compared to 258 beds in 2018. The county board made its decision to not expand the jail, and we’ll live with that, but there are impacts. Part of that is this year’s budget shortfall, because of an unbudgeted cut in our revenue. Now the county board will have to determine how it will come up with a way to cover these costs.”

The Finance Committee will discuss the matter at its meeting Monday morning, with consideration by the county board at a later date.

“The county board made the decision in July to close Pod J, and at that time we suggested leaving it open for a couple years so we could budget for the ramp-down and closure. Unfortunately they chose the Dec. 31 date, which means a shortfall for our 2018 budget, which we predicted.” <&textAlign: right>Dale Schmidt, Dodge County Sheriff

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