Sedgwick County poised to raise fees for housing cities’ jail inmatesBy Deb Gruver
The Wichita Eagle
The fee Sedgwick County charges other cities to house suspected criminals in the downtown jail could go up Jan. 1.
Commissioners on Wednesday will consider a resolution raising the hourly fee it charges for housing people in jail on municipal charges from $2.09 to $2.34. The increase, the first since the county started charging the fee in 2008, is based on a study of the direct costs of housing such inmates.
Jail fees have been a contentious issue. The county began charging the fees in 2008. After some cities, including Wichita, refused to pay, the county sued. A judge ruled the county had a right to charge the fees. Wichita and several other cities settled with the county, paying a reduced amount and agreeing to start paying the full hourly fee.
In November 2010, county commissioners signed off on a deal that allowed Wichita to settle what it owed – more than $10.2 million at the time – at a rate of 37 percent. The city gave the county several pieces of property to settle its bill, including the work-release center at 701 W. Harry, the health department at 1900 E. Ninth St. and several unimproved parcels of land in the northeastern part of the county that the city bought for a landfill that was never built.
Commissioner Dave Unruh has asked several times in the past year or so why the county was not keeping the fee in line with the county’s actual costs.
Unruh won’t be at Wednesday’s meeting to vote but said he was “supportive of the resolution we passed when we first initiated the fees,” which said the fees would be based on direct costs. “Because of the conflicts and the legal difficulties we’ve had, we’ve never raised those for the last several years. Otherwise it would have been going up on an incremental basis every year.”
Unruh said he thought it was important to set fees based on costs and “stay consistent with the proclamation and not be arbitrary with our policy.”
He said he realized cities, which also are strapped in a down economy, would not welcome an increase.
Commission Chairman Tim Norton noted that “we said early on that we would re-evaluate the cost of that fee every so often. We’ve kind of held off on that . . . for the last few years.”
The study by Maximus Consulting Services showed “there’s definitely an increased cost,” Norton said. The study determined the direct cost of housing an inmate is $56.19 a day.
Norton said it was important to him that cities get an early heads-up that the county was planning to increase the fee.
The new hourly fee, if passed Wednesday, would go into effect Jan. 1.
Wichita spokesman Van Williams said via e-mail that the county made the city aware that an increase was likely.
“It is the county’s prerogative,” Williams said. “The increase will negatively affect the city’s budget.”
The county has estimated it will receive about $310,000 more in jail fees if the increase is approved. However, a spokeswoman said that cities are not using the jail as much as they once had, so that number could be less.Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or email@example.com.
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