By Ron Clayton
Polk County is not only paying $40 a day each to house its own inmates in the Bradley County jail, it's shelling out $5 a day apiece for state prisoners, Sheriff Bill Davis said Friday.
When the state fire marshal ordered the overcrowded and dilapidated jail shut down on Wednesday, Polk County was housing 26 people serving state prison sentences, Sheriff Davis said. The state reimbursed the county $35 a day each, he said.
Seven state prisoners were transferred to the correctional complex at Brushy Mountain, while 19 were among the group sent to Bradley County, corrections officials said.
Department of Correction spokeswoman Dorinda Carter said Friday that the $35 state reimbursement fee will go to "whoever is housing and feeding them."
But Polk still has to pay Bradley the difference between the state rate and the $40 fee it negotiated, Sheriff Davis said. The housing cost combined with the reimbursement loss comes to about $1,335 a day, he said, and that number will go up as more people are arrested and jailed.
Meanwhile, Polk commissioners will try again Monday to figure out how to pay to open and run the county 's new justice center.
Meeting at the Copper Basin Community Center on Thursday in front of a crowd of about 100 county residents, commissioners spent more than three hours looking for budget cuts and revenue increases that could avoid the need for a property tax increase of as much as 60 cents per $100 of assessed value.
"From the feeling I have and people I have talked to, they don't want the tax increase," County Commission Chairman Daren Waters said. "The citizens of Polk County can't handle another tax increase. But I feel like we can make enough cuts to open the jail."
Commissioners already have discussed raising property taxes by 10 cents, to $2.99 per $100, which would raise about $210,000, officials said. They also talked about cutting employee raises and increasing revenue projections to find money to operate the justice center.
Two judges last week ordered the county to open the center or release inmates from the overcrowded and dangerous jail.
One local resident asked Thursday why the jail's condition had been let deteriorate for so long.
Sheriff Davis said the facility is old and that maintenance money often had to be used for medical and other needs.
Former County Commissioner Rodney Burris reminded the crowd that grand jurors and inspectors have pointed out shortcomings for years.
"This has been an ongoing problem for years and it has finally blown up," he said. "This didn't happen overnight."
E-mail Ron Clayton at firstname.lastname@example.org
BY THE NUMBERS
Where Polk County Jail inmates were sent:
19: State prisoners sent to Bradley County
9: County inmates sent to Bradley County
7: Inmates released on own recognizance
5: State prisoners sent to Brushy Mountain
1: Inmate sent to McMinn County
Source: Polk County Corrections Department