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County wants Arkansas side to pay more for inmates

County wants Arkansas side to pay more for inmates

November 17th, 2018 by Lori Dunn in Texarkana News

Asking the city of Texarkana, Ark., to pay for inmates held in the Miller County jail is a financial issue that is still in the discussion stage among members of the Miller County Budget and Finance Committee.

"We don't wish to hurt the city, but we need to charge a rate that would cover our cost. We are having difficulty paying our jailers enough to fill positions. We are working on a shoestring budget and would like to pay them more, but we don't have the money," said Ernest Pender, chairman of the Miller County Budget and Finance committee.

However, city officials say they are already paying the county to house prisoners through the countywide sales tax.

Miller County's request for the city to pay for housing its prisoners at the county jail prompted a Nov. 1 letter signed by Texarkana, Ark., Mayor Ruth Penny-Bell, in which she states the .25 percent countywide sales tax "generates approximately $1.2 million annually for jail operations, covers around 40 percent of the total operating budget of the jail, and allows the County to show a profit on prisoner housing."

" to continue paying the .25 percent sales tax AND a daily sum for prisoner care is asking Texarkana citizens, who pay the majority of Miller County taxes, to pay for this twice and is unrealistic. I have consulted with our Board of Directors, and barring an agreement that is acceptable to both of us, we will take the matter of discontinuing the .25 percent sales tax to the voters," Penney-Bell wrote in the letter.

Pender read the letter at a recent meeting of Miller County's Budget and Finance Committee.

He said recently the issue is still one that is being discussed and is not on any agenda but might be after the final budget is complete. He said he has talked to city officials about the issue.

"We obviously don't agree on much," he said.

In February of this year, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled a county may bill a municipality on felony prisoners before a Bill of Information (formal charges) has been filed. They city could be required to pay for the inmates before the information is filed if there is no other agreement, according to Arkansas Supreme Court.

According to the statute, the city is responsible for paying for misdemeanor inmates until they are convicted and then the county becomes responsible for them also unless some other agreement is made.

Pender said it was the court ruling that prompted the county to seriously discuss the matter.

He said the ruling of the county paying for misdemeanor prisoners should not be a huge cost for the county because misdemeanor prisoners usually go before a judge quickly and receive time served.

"We did the math on both sides, and still benefits the county," Pender said.

He said the the cost of an inmate a day "is in middle 30's."

Texarkana, Ark., Police Chief Robert Harrison said he would like to see the city reach a mutual understanding with Miller County regarding the request.

"We need to work together," Harrison said. "I want people to remember that Texarkana, Ark., is in Miller County and the residents are already paying taxes for the jail. I don't see how the county sees this as something advantageous to them," Harrison said.

The police chief said he believes a special election is a last resort, but he would be in favor of one if there is no compromise.

Penney-Bell said she would like to see the issue resolved before the next mayor takes office.

Some information for this report was provided by Gazette reporter Jim Williamson.

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