Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners working session (March 18, 2010): At Thursday’s working session for commissioners, sheriff Jerry Clayton laid out staffing needs for a jail expansion that’s set to open this summer. If approved by the board, over the next two years the corrections division will add 39 full-time employees to its current staff of 103 workers.
The additional expenses associated with those new hires would increase the corrections budget by $1.478 million this year and $3.248 million in 2011. County administrator Bob Guenzel told commissioners that there are sufficient funds to cover those costs. However, looking ahead to 2012 and 2013, the administration is projecting a two-year shortfall for the corrections division of nearly $2 million – a possibility that commissioner Jeff Irwin described as “scary.”
Commissioners in general were supportive of the sheriff’s proposal, and of his approach to managing the jail. Clayton had previously outlined for the board several efforts that the department is making to raise revenues and cut costs. On Thursday he made a case that the expanded jail is necessary to achieve the county’s vision: Keeping residents safe, while providing programs and services to address the root causes of incarceration.
Clayton, Guenzel Give Details of Jail Staffing, Budget
County administrator Bob Guenzel began the presentation by saying that he’s probably one of only a few people still in county government who remembered when the jail was originally built, more than 30 years ago. At the time, in 1978, it was state-of-the-art, he said, and cost about $9 million to construct. It was originally designed to house 215 inmates.
Over the years it’s been modified and expanded, but the current statutory rating at 332 beds has been insufficient for many years, Guenzel said, and the jail is chronically overcrowded. He acknowledged that he’s been among several people who’ve pushed for an expansion, describing it as a “difficult community issue.” Some people, including former sheriff Dan Minzey, wanted a much larger facility – Minzey had advocated for as many as 600 beds. Others felt that the existing jail was already too large.
In February 2005, Washtenaw County voters rejected a 0.75 mill public safety millage proposed to pay for a jail expansion and several other projects. On Thursday, Guenzel told commissioners that the county funded the roughly $22 million expansion instead through capital reserves and other sources. [The county issued bonds to help pay for the expansion – its annual bond payments are $1.6 million – $800,000 from the general fund, and $800,000 from capital reserves.]
The project adds 112 beds to the jail, and includes an expanded intake/transfer/release (ITR) area. The facility was designed for the future, Guenzel said, noting that the ITR area has the capacity to handle a jail with up to 500 or 600 beds, if additional expansions are required. “When we open this in June, you’ll be very proud of it,” Guenzel said.
He noted that the next phase will entail moving inmates to the new beds, then renovating the older part of the jail.
Sheriff Jerry Clayton continued the presentation, commending Guenzel and the board for recognizing that a jail expansion was necessary. The jail is a key component in a continuum of services, he said – without it, they’d be hampered in efforts to assess and manage risk, and to provide appropriate programs and services to residents. Dealing with root causes of incarceration is a priority, Clayton said. The new facility will allow his staff to better manage the inmate population and address those root causes.
Clayton described the process of determining how many additional employees are needed, calling it a collaboration between his department and the county administration. They tried to align the department’s staffing needs with the county’s budgetary constraints. “I assure you we have not padded one FTE,” he said.
When arriving at these numbers, they kept in mind the need to run a safe and secure facility, he said, and to manage risk. What the board doesn’t want, Clayton said, is for the county to be faced with a lawsuit because something goes wrong in a jail that’s not adequately secure. Given that, they looked at every position, he said, and challenged whether it was needed.
Clayton then asked corrections commander Rick Kaledas to explain how they’d determined the number of additional staff they’d need at the jail. Kaledas said they looked at the operation as a whole, examining every post – that is, the location where a corrections officer or others are stationed. Each 24/7 post requires 5.2 full-time equivalent employees to staff it, he said.
Using national best practices methodology, the goal of their analysis, he said, was to “get the right amount of people in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing.” As an outcome, they identified the need for 39 additional positions, Kaledas said, including four sergeants, 19 corrections officers and 16 community service officers.
New employees won’t need to be “post-ready” until Aug. 1, Kaledas said, but hiring would begin in April and training would take place in June and July. This year, they plan to add the four sergeants, 15 corrections officers and 11 community service officers. The remainder of the new staff will be joining the division in 2011.
Clayton clarified that the new sergeant positions will be filled by promotions of current corrections officers. He also noted that when fully staffed, they expect to incur lower overtime costs. Other potential savings are expected to come from negotiating down the jail’s contracts for food and medical services, he said.
One-time costs of about $218,000 associated with the hiring process include background checks, physical and psychological evaluations, training and uniforms.
Guenzel picked up the next part of the presentation, going over the budget projections in more detail. Because the hires would be phased in, the projected budget increase in 2010 will be $1.478 million – including $1.23 million for salaries and fringe benefits. In 2011, the budget increases by $3.248 million. [The 2010 total corrections budget is $16.355 million – of that, $9.433 million goes toward salaries and benefits. For 2011, the approved budget is $16.975 million.]
The county proposes paying for the increases each year out of $2.4 million in jail expansion reserves, which Guenzel said includes $1.2 million from reserves set aside annually to pay for jail overcrowding. The other $1.2 million had already been allocated to the correction department’s budget for 2010 and 2011 to cover anticipated operational costs related to the expansion.
But those reserves won’t cover the projected costs in 2012 and 2013, when a two-year $1.88 million shortfall is expected. Guenzel said he realized it would be a budgeting challenge, but that there are opportunities in savings from collective bargaining. In addition, the sheriff is exploring other ways to bring in new revenue, Guenzel said, which will help address the shortfall.
Guenzel told commissioners they’ll be asked to vote on the proposal at their next Ways & Means Committee meeting, on April 7. The sheriff’s department needs to ramp up recruitment in order to hire and train new employees in time for the opening of the jail expansion.
Commissioner Questions, Comments
Leah Gunn led off by saying that she’d recently been on a tour of the new facility and she’d been very impressed by the intake area. She noted that the JPORT program (Justice Project Outreach Team) would be located there, and she was supportive of that.
The county’s jail and corrections operation is a state-mandated service, Gunn pointed out, in contrast to police services, which are not mandated. She said she looked forward to seeing a compromise in that area, and noted that the lawsuit with three townships, related to police services, was still pending. [Gunn was referring to a dispute between the county and the townships of Ypsilanti, Salem and Augusta over the cost they've paid for sheriff deputy patrols. See Chronicle coverage: "Townships Lose Again in Deputy Patrol Case"]
The budget would be a strain, Gunn said, but she planned to support the additional staff request. She asked for clarification of the corrections officers and the community service officers, in terms of training and duties.
Clayton said that corrections officers will have direct contact with inmates, both inside the jail and elsewhere. Qualities for those hires include the ability to solve conflict in a positive way, interpersonal communication, decision-making skills, and an understanding of safety challenges, among other things. The community service officers will be handling intake, he said, so accurate data entry skills will be needed. CSOs will also require the ability to assess inmates to determine what kinds of programs or services they’ll need, and what classification of risk they should be given, which in turn determines how they’ll be housed within the jail.
Barbara Bergman raised concerns about the juvenile population in the criminal justice system, noting that it’s important to look out for juveniles within the corrections campus. She also asked about the number of beds in a cell, wondering how they arrived at four beds per cell.
Clayton said the expansion was designed before he took office in January 2009. He said staff will be stationed inside the jail’s housing units, and that inmates will be assessed, classified and housed according to risk. Those factors help identify potential problems and allow staff to deal with them before there’s a crisis, he said.
Bergman acknowledged that Leah Gunn had taken a lot of guff for the jail expansion, but Bergman reckoned she herself had taken even more – because of that, she joked that they should name the jail the Barbara Levin Bergman Living Memorial Jail, with Gunn’s name in small letters beneath that.
Mark Ouimet picked up that theme, saying they should perhaps sell the naming rights to make up for the shortfall – they could put the Nike swoosh on uniforms, he quipped.
Ouimet then clarified that the hires will be phased in during 2010 and 2011. Jennifer Watson, the county’s budget manager, said the biggest area of uncertainty related to budget projections is in fringe benefits, but that they were conservative in their estimates.
Ouimet asked if the budget was based on the assumption that the jail would be filled at all times. Clayton confirmed this. Ouimet followed up by asking whether the staff size would decrease if the jail population fell. No, Clayton said, they’d staff it the same, unless the jail population were down significantly for an extended period. Bob Guenzel said they’d have to shut down an entire “pod” – the term used for a wing of the jail – in order to see cost savings.
Clayton elaborated on the definition of “full.” Though 112 beds are being added to the current 332, for a total of 444 beds, the operational capacity is about 380 beds, he said – the optimal number of inmates to allow the staff to effectively manage the jail population. Their current average daily population is 350.
Kristin Judge asked for more details regarding efforts to renegotiate contracts for food and medical services. Those are the two largest service providers to the jail, Clayton said, and so they hope to see cost reductions from renegotiated deals. On the other hand, he added, the number of inmates is increasing. It’s likely that the net effect will be flat.
Greg Dill, director of sheriff administrative operations, is leading negotiations on these deals. He said they’ll be bringing a recommendation to the sheriff for the medical contract on March 22. For food services, Dill is working with the county’s purchasing department, and they might end up issuing a request for proposals (RFP) for that contract.
As she’s stated in the past, Judge reiterated her belief that the county needs to “do things differently” regarding its approach to public safety. Clayton acknowledged that this was a “human services county,” but said that public safety had an impact on quality of life and the economy. There are people who want to do harm, he said, and the county needs a facility to hold them. Despite their best efforts, it’s likely that the jail population will continue to increase, Clayton said. The state continues to turn offenders back into the community, he noted, and people continue to make bad decisions that land them in jail. An adequate, well-run jail is crucial to the community, he said.
Jeff Irwin asked whether the department will see savings from changes in transportation needs, given the facility’s new configuration. The 14A-1 District Court, now located in a former monastery built in the 1950s, will move to a new building attached to the jail. Clayton said they don’t expect to see significant savings, but that through video arraignment and other changes, they’ll be looking for ways to cut costs.
Irwin said the budget projections for 2012 and 2013 were troubling. In the proposed budget, the jail expansion reserves of $2.4 million in 2010 and 2011 will increase to $2.52 million in 2012 and to $2.646 million in 2013, Irwin noted – what accounts for the increase? Guenzel said they projected inflationary increases in arriving at those numbers. If that additional $370,000 or so doesn’t materialize, Irwin said, it’s likely that the two-year shortfall will be over $2 million. Irwin said it had been smart of the sheriff to come before the board recently and talk about how he planned to increase revenues, just prior to requesting additional staff. [See Chronicle coverage: "County Board Gets Update from Sheriff"]
Irwin then asked when the department expects the state Dept. of Corrections to come in and give a rating of the jail expansion. That will probably happen in late 2010 or early 2011, said corrections commander Rick Kaledas.
Irwin also wanted to know how they’d arrived at the 5.2 number of full-time workers needed to staff one 24/7 post. Clayton explained that they estimated they’d need a total of 8,700 hours to cover each post – 24 hours multiplied by 365 days. Each full-time employee works about 1,700 hours each year, after accounting for vacation time, holidays and sick leave. Dividing 8,700 by 1,700 results in roughly 5.2 positions needed.
Barbara Bergman brought up the lawsuit that the townships of Ypsilanti, Salem and August filed against the county – what was the status of that settlement? What does the county need to do to get that money, she asked, because that would be very useful to apply toward the jail operations budget. [Previously, the county has indicated they'd be seeking roughly $2 million.]
UPDATE: The county is requesting $2,231,326.25, according to Curtis Hedger, the county’s corporation counsel. That’s broken down into these categories: 1) damages of $1,845,048; 2) interest of $385,841.95 (calculated from the date of the filing of the counterclaim until the approximate date of the entry of judgment); and 3) taxable costs of $436.30. Judge Costello’s office has requested a hearing on the county’s motion for entry of judgment – the hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday, April 21, 2010.
Guenzel reported that the county had recently filed for entry of judgment – asking 38th Circuit Court Chief Judge Joseph Costello to issue an amount for the townships to pay. Now, they were waiting for the townships to respond, he said. Bergman wondered whether the county would receive that money in her lifetime.
Bergman clarified that inmates ate in their “pods” – the term used for each jail housing unit. She asked whether access to exercise equipment was a privilege to gain or to lose. A little of both, Clayton said. He added that recreation should be available throughout the jail – it’s not possible to effectively manage inmates if they aren’t provided with a way to exercise and stimulate both the body and the mind, he said.
Kristin Judge asked whether the county had enough funds to demolish the old 14A-1 District Court building, after the court moves to its new facility. Guenzel said they don’t have funds identified yet to do that – they don’t anticipate that there will be extra money available from the jail expansion bond proceeds. They’re looking at possibly using other non-general fund reserves or money from the so-called 1/8 mill allocation, which is used for maintenance projects. The court will likely relocate in June, Guenzel said, and the goal would be to demolish the building in late summer or early fall – assuming they can find a funding source that commissioners are comfortable with.
Jessica Ping, who chairs the working session meetings, recalled that at the board’s regular meeting on March 17, lobbyist Kirk Profit mentioned that the state was eliminating reimbursements to county jails that house state prisoners. She wondered whether there were any federal grants available to offset that loss. No, Clayton said, but they were looking at various revenue opportunities.
Commissioners present: Barbara Levin Bergman, Leah Gunn, Jeff Irwin, Kristin Judge, Mark Ouimet, Ronnie Peterson, Jessica Ping, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith
Absent: Wes Prater, Ken Schwartz