BILLING FOR INMATES
Below are the amounts Whitfield County has billed Georgia for state inmates housed in the county jail:
2009 — $342,958
2010 — $315,524
2011 — $446,578
Source: Georgia Department of Corrections
Whitfield County has no way of knowing if it is getting the money due for housing state inmates, according to a financial audit.
The county jail houses 35 to 40 state inmates at any given time, and the state reimburses the county $22 a day per inmate.
But an annual audit for 2011 shows there aren't any checks in place to ensure the billing, collecting and recording of all the inmates who sleep and eat in the jail.
In a county that's trying to save money by making employees take four furlough days a year, closing the courthouse for extra days and requiring safety workers to rotate extra days off, Whitfield officials say every dollar helps and the audit's findings are cause for worry.
"If there's funds we're not receiving from the state that's owed, that's always a concern," County Administrator Mark Gibson said.
According to the Department of Corrections, the county has billed the state for more than $1.1 million from 2009 to 2011.
Gibson couldn't say where the disconnect is coming from or what department may bear the brunt of the responsibility, but he said county personnel are discussing the findings with responsible departments. The offices involved in the billing are constitutional offices held by elected officials, so there is only so much the county can do, he said.
There are at least four agencies responsible for billing and collecting, and the clerk of courts office is responsible for collecting information on the inmates and getting signatures from the district attorney's office and the judges who sentenced the inmates. Then the clerk's office mails that information to the state, and the sheriff's office sends the bill to the state, Gibson said.
"Anyone could speed up or slow down the process," he said.
Department heads from the clerk of courts and sheriff's offices said the process is complicated, and each department tracks only its part of the process.
Since 2009, the clerk's office has sent paperwork to the state for about 1,300 inmates, Clerk Melica Kendrick said, but she didn't know how much money the state has received overall because her department doesn't receive the checks.
Every month the sheriff's office bills the state for the inmates, but the money is sent back to the county to go into the general fund, sheriff's Maj. John Gibson said, so the sheriff's office doesn't track the money, either.
John Gibson said sometimes the clerk's office is slow in getting information out, which can clog the billing process. But Kendrick defended her part of the process, saying her office is proficient.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...