A reason to be irate

Published 10:07 pm Saturday, January 5, 2008

By Staff
Hyde County taxpayers have a good reason be irate.
The county built a new 32-bed jail, but it forgot to appropriate any money to run it. The jail sits empty.
That’s like buying a new car and not having enough money to put gas in the fuel tank.
If those people responsible for allocating money for jail operations were in charge of running the jail, it’s likely there would be some running — by inmates away from the jail.
Sheriff David Mason said there’s at least one way to raise the money needed to run the jail — increase taxes. According to the sheriff, it could take a property-tax increase of up to 14 cents per $100 valuation to raise the money to open the jail. Charles Ray Spencer, chairman of the Hyde County Board of Commissioners, believes a property-tax increase of 10 cents to 11 cents per $100 valuation would provide the money needed to operate the jail. A 14-cent increase would result in a homeowner paying $70 more in taxes on a $50,000 house each year. A 10-cent increase would result in the taxes on a $50,000 house increasing by $50.
Either way, taxpayers end up paying for a mistake they didn’t make, unless one considers voting for people who didn’t realize they needed money to run a new jail after it was built is a mistake.
Operating a jail these days takes many more people than it did even 30 years ago. Mason said it will take at least 20 people to run the jail. When county officials first began talking about building a new jail, they were told it would take from five to seven jailers and an administrator to operate the jail.
According to Mason, the new jail will need at least five jailers on duty at any given time. The jail’s control room, from which security cameras and security doors are operated, will need at least one person assigned to it at any time 24 hours a day, the sheriff said. The jail’s intake room, where incoming inmates are processed, also must be staffed around the clock by at least one person, according to Mason.
Spencer believes those 20 employees would cost the county about $40,000 each in salary and benefits. That would mean the county would need at least $800,000 to pay personnel costs associated with staffing the jail.
A lot of the cost associated with operating the new jail will come in the form of salaries. Unlike the one-time cost of building the jail, operating expenses associated with the jail will continue year after year. Another big cost would be feeding inmates. The new jail doesn’t have kitchen facilities. That means food for inmates must be delivered to the jail.
Meanwhile, Mason is spending taxpayers’ money to incarcerate Hyde County inmates in other jails, some as far away as Goldsboro and Raleigh.
Although it may be cheaper not to open the new jail, according to Mason, there is a downside to not opening it.
Transporting prisoners out of the county is taxing the sheriff’s office’s staff, Mason said last year. Last summer, three additional deputies were needed on the mainland part of the county because of increased demands associated with transporting inmates, he said then.
Hyde County officials must consider any solution that prevents taxpayers from having to pay to open the jail. If that’s not possible, those officials should make sure any extra burden placed on taxpayers is as small as possible.
Hyde County taxpayers shouldn’t pay for a mistake they didn’t make. Sad to say, they probably will have to pay for that mistake.
That’s a crime.