Hamilton County taxpayers have shelled out $8.5 million to pay for state prisoners in local jails over the last 15 years, an audit shows.
Although the state reimburses the county to hold prisoners, the $35-per-day payment is a little more than half of what it actually costs.
County Mayor Claude Ramsey complained about the discrepancy in a letter he sent earlier this month to the Tennessee Department of Correction.
"The intent of the County Correctional Incentive Program was to reimburse counties at a fair rate for housing state prisoners," he wrote.
The $35 daily rate is "contrary to the intent of the program," he said.
A state legislator said nothing will change anytime soon.
"I don't have a lot of good news for the county at this point, because the state's out of money," state Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said.
Dorinda Carter, spokeswoman for the state correction department, said there are no current discussions about adjusting the reimbursement rate. The state faces budget problems of its own. Tennessee lawmakers may have to cut $1.1 billion from its budget next year to keep it balanced, officials have said.
State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said the Hamilton County delegation "raises the issue every session."
Weakley County Sheriff Mike Wilson, president of the Tennessee Sheriffs' Association, said sheriffs around the state are simply hoping the state budget deficit doesn't lead to a lower reimbursement rate.
"We're at the mercy of the Department of Correction as far as that goes," Sheriff Wilson said.
NOT PAID ENOUGH
In 1994, the state dropped its reimbursement to counties for housing state prisoners from $64 per day to $35. The per diem rate remained at $35 until July 2003 when the state reduced it to $32 for the next two years.
"The state's decision to reinstate the obviously inadequate capped rate of $35 beginning in July 2005 simply does not do enough to fairly compensate Hamilton County for the true cost of maintaining State inmates in our correctional facilities," Mr. Ramsey wrote.
In his letter, the county mayor said that between July 1, 2008, and June 30, 2009, the difference between what the county paid to house state prisoners and what it received in reimbursements was about $843,600.
The audit from the county auditor's office, which was attached to the letter, states that it costs $70.54 per day to house state prisoners at the jail and $45.33 for them to stay at Silverdale Correctional facility.
Mr. Ramsey also notes that the county has a similar agreement with the federal government to house federal inmates. The federal per diem reimbursement rate is closer to the county's actual costs of housing inmates, he said.
Don Gorman, administration director for the county Sheriff's Office, said the county receives about $59 per day for each federal inmate housed at the jail.
Deputy Chief Richard Shockley, who oversees operations at the Hamilton County Jail, said the jail housed 36 state prisoners and 38 federal prisoners as of Thursday morning. He said the state prisoners at the jail included parole or probation violators awaiting hearings and inmates who have been sentenced but not yet transported to a state prison.
BY THE NUMBERS
Hamilton County Jail
* 555: Average daily population
* 489: Capacity
* $13 million: Net operating cost
Silverdale Correctional Facility
* 831: Average daily population
* 1,062: Capacity
* $11.5 million: Net operating cost
All figures are for July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009
Source: Hamilton County government
COSTS VS. REIMBURSEMENT
* $70.54: Cost per day to house state prisoners at the Hamilton County Jail
* $45.33: Cost per day to house state prisoners at Silverdale Correctional facility.
* $35: Reimbursement per day from the state for housing state prisoners at local facilities
Source: Hamilton County auditor