LEC ’12 budget in the red: Officials say funding structure needs to be reviewedThe 2012 budget for the operations of the Stutsman County Law Enforcement Center includes more than $450,000 in deficit spending and projects the three county funds used to operate the facility will end next year with nearly $330,000 in red ink. That’s prompting some government officials to discuss different ways to fund the facility.
By: Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun
The 2012 budget for the operations of the Stutsman County Law Enforcement Center includes more than $450,000 in deficit spending and projects the three county funds used to operate the facility will end next year with nearly $330,000 in red ink. That’s prompting some government officials to discuss different ways to fund the facility.
“The corrections center is in a little trouble,” said Noel Johnson, county chief operating officer. “We’ve been trying to balance the budget and stay in the black for many years.”
The Law Enforcement Center budget includes the operations of the county correctional center or jail, the maintenance and operation of the building used as office space for the local law enforcement agencies and the operation of the dispatch center. The total operating expense budget for 2012 is about $3.1 million.
While funding comes from a number of sources the biggest single source is fees charged to house inmates under contract for the federal government.
“The bulk of that revenue comes from the U.S. Marshal’s office and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons,” said Tracey Trapp, administrator for the Law Enforcement Center. “We average about 41 inmates per day at a daily rate of $60 per day.”
Along with the federal prisoners the correctional center portion of the LEC houses, on average, seven prisoners sentenced in Jamestown Municipal Court and 18 prisoners sentenced in Southeast District Court. It also averages four prisoners per day on contracts from local governments outside Stutsman County.
The total budgeted income from housing prisoners in 2012 is estimated at $1.1 million, leaving nearly $2 million in expenses to be covered by local money.
Stutsman County levies a countywide 10 mills which is anticipated to generate about $650,000 in 2012. The county will also transfer $100,000 from its general fund to the LEC general fund, $105,000 from the county general fund to the dispatch center for wages, $115,000 from the 911 fund to the dispatch center for wages and $255,000 from the county FICA and Retirement fund to cover the county portion of those expenses for the entire LEC and dispatch staff. This totals about $1.2 million in county contribution. Of the county tax money an estimated 43 percent is collected from properties within Jamestown city limits.
Jamestown contributes $120,000 and contributes one officer as a supervisor for each shift in the dispatch center.
Between the contract prison revenue, tax collections and government contributions and miscellaneous revenue the Law Enforcement Center anticipates revenue of about $2.7 million leaving about a $450,000 deficit.
Part of the deficit is planned deficit spending for new 911 dispatch equipment, according to Jerry Bergquist, Stutsman County emergency manager.
“We’ve set aside some money from the 911 excise tax each year for this,” he said. “The equipment we have dates back to 1999 and is ancient for this type of equipment.”
The 911 excise tax is the $1 per month per phone line tax added to phone bills. The fund had accumulated a reserve of $340,000 of which $280,000 will be spent on the new equipment.
The Law Enforcement Center has also incurred some big expenses in the past two year. The building received a new roof in 2011 and had major overhauls to the elevators in 2010.
“We spent the first 20 years we were in the building paying it off,” Trapp said. “Now we have a 25-year-old building and we have to keep it up.”
Determining how to cover the future deficits will be a matter for the LEC governing board. This board has two members from the county, two from the city and one at large.
“The whole structure of funding has to be looked at for possible change,” said David Schwartz, Stutsman County commissioner and representative on the governing board. “There has been a lot of repair costs in the past years and we need to look at who pays for what.”
Jim Nygaard, the at-large representative on the governing board, also sees a need to reassess the budget plan.
“Things have run pretty well in the past,” he said. “Time to look at who’s handling what and who’s paying for what. It’s an expensive thing to deal with prisoners and operate a 24/7 dispatch center.”
Ramone Gumke, city councilman and representative on the governing board, said the budget problems come from a couple of sources.
“The reason it will be a deficit is the majority of revenue comes form holding prisoners which is down,” he said. “And we’ve taken a couple of big hits for maintenance. It makes the cash flow seem worse than it actually is. From a dollar standpoint it is an equitable split but by the square footage of the building it may not be.”
And that is the direction Mark Klose, chairman of the Stutsman County Commission, would like to pursue.
“We need to establish a cost per square foot,” he said. “That would be a place to start.”
Whatever changes are made to the cost allocation formula for the LEC will be made for the 2013 budget.
“There is a way to work this out but it hasn’t been addressed,” Johnson said. “We are letting it run in the red this year but this should be a partnership with the city.”
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at (701) 952-8452 or by email at email@example.com