The Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday voted to keep the Gulf County Jail operations intact.
Commissioner Joanna Bryan said she would continue to look at the $1.2 million jail budget and liability issues as the county budget continues to contract.
Jail administrator Michael Hammond said he had been “blindsided” by the discussion of two weeks prior, during which Bryan, for the second time, raised the issue of jail inspections, liability and jail costs.
Since being requested by Commissioner Warren Yeager to “think outside the box”, something Yeager again championed Tuesday, Bryan has examined ways to possibly cut jail costs.
Hammond said he wanted to bring some history to the issue and to “set the record straight.”
He disputed figures published in the newspaper last week regarding costs and jail operations, figures that had been provided to Bryan by county administrator Don Butler, in consultation with Hammond, on July 29 after Bryan first raised issue regarding the jail population and operating expenses more than a month ago.
He also disputed conclusions made by Bryan based on those figures and published last week, saying that farming out the male population at the jail, as is currently policy on females, who are housed in Bay County, would not represent a cost savings.
Hammond also noted that the board policy, adopted several years ago, was to not bring the jail up to Florida Model Jail Standards due to the costs, over $1.3 million.
That decision came after a review of the jail by a contractor hired by the BOCC.
He said Bryan’s suggestion at the last meeting to have the jail inspected was in direct conflict with board policy, which he had reiterated twice during the last meeting in saying he would refuse a commissioner and inspector access to the jail without a board vote.
“I totally agree … you should not adopt the policies (of Model Jail Standards),” Hammond said.
He said the board should vote not to outsource the jail operations to address concerns by the 15 full-time employees.
Hammond said the discussion was personal and an effort to have him fired.
Bryan said there was nothing personal, she was doing what Yeager had asked of commissioners – think outside the box.
She said the discussion was hardly a “blindside” since she had long ago requested information from Butler and Hammond, information published last week which Hammond was now disputing.
“This is a business decision,” Bryan said. “I would not want us to take on something that would not save us money.”
She said there was a statutory requirement for jail inspections, though no enforcement of that requirement is in statute. She said an inspection would show where the county jail fell short of Model Jail Standards.
“It does not increase liability,” Bryan said. “We need to strive to meet Model Jail Standards. “You can not inspect your facility.
“When we incarcerate we take over people’s lives. We need to ensure the inmates our safe and our employees have the right to be safe. The (MJS) are aspirational; they are a minimum.”
She said the county needs to operate more fiscally-efficient and examining all phases of the budget is the way to ensure that efficiency. She added that there were cost savings to be had; Yeager disagreed, saying it might cost the county more to send male inmates to Bay County.
“It will cost more,” Hammond contended. “The jail is better today that it has ever run. It is not rational to have this discussion.”
Commissioners Carmen McLemore and Tan Smiley framed the discussion in terms of jobs; they each said they want to create jobs not cut them.
The board expressed support for current jail operations and Bryan said she would continue to perform research and said she would bring the issue back to the BOCC if necessary.
Responding to comments from Port St. Joe officials regarding a county increase in tipping fees, Butler explained that when the county approved a half-cent sales tax in 2009 to be earmarked for landfill costs, the cities of Port St. Joe and Wewahitchka were given a choice.
Accept the proceeds – 21 percent to Port St. Joe; 12 percent to Wewahitchka – and pay tipping fees at Five Points or turn the cities’ share over to the county and pay no tipping fees.
The cities took the money.
For Port St. Joe that meant roughly $130,000 last year compared to the city’s $60,000 in costs to the landfill. Therefore, Butler said, the city was actually assessing its citizens twice, not the county, on yard debris and garbage collection, through the half-cent sales tax and landfill fees.
The city had also made a profit on the deal.
Yeager recommended and the board approved providing the same deal to the city, which had protested an increase in tipping fees which would not be borne by county residents, as had been offered previously.
Citizen Bill Koran and Bryan renewed discussion and questioning about the Americus Ditch project, which cost $1.2 million, has been repaired more than 130 times in the past several years and continues to be a problem.
Koran faulted the way the project was bid and awarded, saying the contractor was not qualified and the county erred in having Preble Rish Engineers design and inspect the job.
Bryan said the job should not have been awarded to a contractor that submitted an incomplete and unqualified bid.
“This is poster child for the wrong way to do business,” Bryan said. “It concerns me about how many other projects have been done this way and the exposure for liability.”
Beacon Hill sign
Williams has notified the county he wished to have the sign at Beacon Hill which formerly advertised the Beacon Living facility be taken down and stored for sufficient time to allow him to find a suitable location.
The county will bring down the sign and store it at the Public Works yard. If Williams claims the sign, he must reimburse the county for the cost of razing it. If not, the county will sell the sign for scrap.
Also addressed was the recent letter sent to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission requesting the agency to remove seven boats and trailers parked on county property.
Butler said the issue was not recent, but had been raised in 2010, though at the time former Commissioner Bill Williams intervened and allowed the FWC to return the boats.
Butler said the issue was layered, with the costs of water use by the FWC, use of a county dumpster and the rutting of county land also in play.
He said there had been ongoing dialogue, though when questioned by Bryan the only written correspondence had been the letter from over three years ago.
Bryan suggested, and Yeager agreed to intervene with FWC officials, that the county should be working with state agencies and law enforcement.
The FWC has questioned the timing of the most recent request, coming shortly after the agency launched an investigation into the possible illegal taking of two alligators, which involves several county-paid employees.