Jailer fields questions from fiscal court

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By Jamie Baker-Nantz

Grant County’s three magistrates had plenty of questions for Jailer Terry Peeples and most of them involved money being spent at the detention center.

The magistrates peppered Peeples with questions concerning the jail’s budget, employee turnover, purchasing supplies from local businesses and general operations at the facility, earlier this month, when Peeples provided them with a written summary from his time in office, which began Jan. 3.

All three magistrates, who by Kentucky law have the responsibility for approving the jail’s budget, said money being spent at the facility is their number one concern.

“We were handed a budget that included certain income and expenses,” said Brian Linder, magistrate of the 2nd district. “My concern is that the income is not coming in like it was predicted so money is being spent that wasn’t in the budget.”

Peeples said while some of the projected revenue at the facility may be under budget, he believes at the end of the budget cycle the situation will have rectified itself.

“Nothing is guaranteed,” Peeples said. “We tried to project our income based on past performance and the homework we’ve done on projects. We tried to project as accurately as possible.”

Peeples budgeted for the detention center to earn $180,000 for phone service for the inmates during the 2011-2012 budget. However, only $6,000 has been received, which is less than half of the $15,000 per month estimated in Peeple’s budget.

Grant County Treasurer Peggy Updike said she’d received only one check for $6,000 on July 19 for the month of May.

The reason  for the difference, according to Peeples, is because a new phone system has been installed and until the cost of $19,000 is paid off, the provider will continue to deduct a monthly cost.

“It will be paid for in 90 days and we anticipate those payments will then be close to our budget projects,” Peeples said.

The detention center’s budget, along with other county departments such as the sheriff’s office, parks and recreation, roads, etc, operates on a fiscal year from July 1 to June 30. The court approves line items in those budgets. If one of those departments goes over budget, the court must move money from the general fund or county’s reserves to cover those additional costs.

“We’re only in the second month of the budget and there seems to be a lot of expenses coming across that weren’t included, so it does concern me,” Linder said.

“They (the jailer and staff) have assured us they’ll meet their budget projections,” said Bobby Young, magistrate of the 1st district. “But I don’t want to go six months down the road and then me have to answer why I didn’t ask the tough questions.”

Peeples said he’s also concerned about the budget, especially since House Bill 463 took effect which cites misdemeanor offenses to court rather than arresting them and lodging them in jail.

“I am concerned with HB 463 because it turns state inmates out and we don’t know how that’ll impact us,” he said.

The magistrates told Peeples they were being questioned by the public on the number of turnovers at the facility, as well as whether or not money was being spent on things such as new paint, grass and trees.

“When people drive by they notice a new paint job, a new sign and a new fence,” Linder said. “And the community may interpret that as he’s spending money not saving money.”

Peeples said the improvements at the facility are his attempt to remove the dark cloud that has hung over the facility. Peeples said his plan is to improve the center’s image and reputation, following several inmate lawsuits during the last several years, especially one in which a teenage boy was raped by inmates and jail employees were indicted in federal court.

“We’ve got a bad image and the quickest way to change that was to change the appearance of the jail,” Peeples said.

Peeples said he paid for the blue paint used at the jail out of his pocket, as well as three of four bags of grass seed used on the jail’s lawn.

One particular are of concern for the magistrates was over a $3,200 decal or sign at the jail.

“We were under the impression it was donated but then we had a bill on it,” said Young.

Peeples said he originally had someone who planned to donate the sign, so his staff ordered it. Then a more pressing need came about when a vehicle at the jail was out of commission, so the sign benefactor agreed to donate a Durango worth $10,000 to the jail instead of the sign, Peeples said.

“We tried to cancel the sign order but it was too late, so we paid for it but got a $10,000 vehicle in return,” Peeples said.

“My concern is there’s a list of needs that you have, like a washer and dryer and we’re throwing $3,200 at a sign?” Young said.

“I’m conservative by nature,” Peeples said. “The first word out of my mouth when the staff asks for something is usually no.”

Magistrates also questioned Peeples on new fencing at the facility.

Austin, in particular, wanted to know why the materials were purchased outside Grant County when it could have been purchased locally.

“It disappoints me that we couldn’t keep those dollars here,” Austin said. “It’s not a lot of money, it’s the principal.”

Peeples said his staff tries to buy locally when possible and realizes it should have bought the fencing in the county.

“That fence didn’t cost the county anything, though,” Peeples said. “Because we paid for it out of the jail’s canteen fund as an inmate work program.”

A dialog between the jailer and fiscal court will be ongoing.

Grant County Judge Executive Darrell Link said he and the court will continue to ask questions.

“We’ve been concerned from day one and until information comes to us in a truthful manner, we’re going to keep on asking those questions. At the end of the day, if they (the jail) or any department spends more money than they take in, then it’s up to us to cover those costs,” Link said.

“We want you to save the taxpayers money and we pat you on the back for it,” Linder said.

“I am concerned because I’m a taxpayer as well and I have to answer to 8,000 constituents in my district as well as I represent the rest of the county so we’ve got to ask those questions because we’ve got fiscal responsibility,” Young said.

While fielding pointed questions, Peeples also received some encouraging words tinged with apprehension from the court.

“I think you’re doing a good job,” said Young. “I’m saying no to parks and recreation and no to the sheriff’s office and other departments and questions are getting asked of us so I’ve got to ask them of you.

“We pat you on the back for some of your initiatives because we want you to save taxpayer money,” said Linder. “But we’re all living under a microscope when it comes to the jail. The community sees this activity and wonders what is going on.”