Jail cost estimates continue to shrink

White

The new year appears to be offering relief for county officials and taxpayers by way of lower anticipated costs for housing local prisoners.

At last Thursday's meeting of Lyon Fiscal Court, magistrates heard some good news as it pertains to the direction of jail expenses for the county. An estimate for the cost to house local offenders in the current fiscal year that was once as high as a half-million dollars now appears to be about 25% lower.

"We are now trending around $375,000 instead of $500,000," Judge-Executive Wade White said after the meeting.

The high estimate early in the fiscal year led to some difficult decisions and forced several county employees out of jobs, including general labor and layoffs in the county clerk and sheriff's offices. It put officials in a pinch.

But at the start of the second half of the budget year that ends June 30, adjustments that have been made and projections are trending in the right direction. Sheriff Brent White even convinced the fiscal court to allow creation of a sheriff-run impound lot for vehicles involved in crimes and wrecks, bringing in revenue to the office to help maintain staffing.

While the rate of local offenses may not be drastically down, a different approach to arrests is saving the county money. Instead of incarcerating all offenders charged by the sheriff's department, many with non-violent charges not against individuals are being summonsed to court, eliminating housing costs of about $32 per day per person.

An example might be failure to appear in court or pay fines.

And good news from last week's circuit court docket saw 16 defendants taken off the county's dime at the Jan. 6 session -- some were sentenced to state incarceration and others were given probation.

"I'm glad that list is as long as it is," said Sheriff White. "To have this many gone at one time is actually good for the county."

Also new this year is the creation of a temporary judge's position to help Circuit Judge C.A. Woodall III dispense of cases that jam up the criminal docket, keeping offenders behind bars an average of almost nine months before their case is resolved.

Judge James Redd III was appointed to hear a number of cases in the 56th Judicial Circuit that includes Lyon, Caldwell, Livingston and Trigg counties.

As a primary example of how the backlog on court dockets directly affects taxpayers, Katie and Clayton Harrison, who pleaded guilty last week to stealing money from the City of Kuttawa in 2018, each spent almost 14 months in jail at a cost of around $25,000 to taxpayers.

The Harrisons are now in state custody after their felony sentencing.

Speed limit reduction

Little action was taken at last week's meeting, however fiscal court introduced an ordinance to set the speed limit at 20 mph on Walters Road.

It is expected to achieve final approval at the February meeting.