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On jail’s costs and revenue

May 24, 2012
By Richard Cutting - Sheriff , Essex County

To clarify a recent article and "disbelief" expressed, both at the county meeting and in comments online: New York state closed our old jail as outdated, dangerous and inadequate. We were paying between $500,000 and $750,000 per year to house overflow inmates out of county, in addition to transportation to and from courts.

As such, the county was forced to build a new facility or face between $1 million and $2 million per year in boarding costs and transportation.

Upon the recommendation of experts who studied incarceration trends, the county elected to build a 120-bed facility that would handle Essex County needs for the next 30 years. With taxpayers in mind, we planned to fill beds not needed for Essex County's immediate needs with boarders from other jurisdictions to generate revenue. Between the fall of 2008 and the end of April 2012, we have brought $4.665 million into Essex County coffers from these boarders.

Yes, the building was one of the largest expenditures in Essex County history. But it also includes the county 911 center and a wing for the New York State Police, who pay a significant amount of rent for their space.

My point at the recent meeting was that the correctional facility exists for Essex County inmates and is staffed in accordance with New York state standards. In the absence of boarders, we would still have the bond and staff for Essex County inmates.

Inmate housing generates cost. That cost is in food, clothing, hygiene supplies and such, excluding the base cost of the jail which Essex County had to build and staff anyway. I took any costs related to inmate services and developed a cost per day per inmate.

We had more than 29,000 inmate days in 2011; given the entire cost of food and related inmate costs, this translates to a cost of $7.92 per day per inmate for our entire inmate population. In other words, each inmate through the door costs you, the taxpayer, an additional $7.92 per day to feed, clothe, provide for personal hygiene and building cleaning.

When applied to the 13,870 days that boarder inmates spent in Essex County in 2011, the additional costs for boarders amounted to slightly less than $110,000. In return, we were able to bring in revenue of $1.323 million. Our officers have taken on this additional workload without any additional compensation, and are doing an impressive and professional job as well. We also have a stake in this as we are residents and taxpayers, too.

Naturally, this does not include the staffing, bond or utilities, as that was not my intent. Consider the costs of your local hotel-motel. Regardless of whether there are five rooms rented or 100 rooms rented, you still need to pay a mortgage, a desk clerk, an accountant, cleaning staff, maintenance people, etc. With more rooms rented, the costs for laundry and cleaning increase, but nowhere near the revenue from room rentals. With increased revenue, the net costs then decrease. My net budget for 2011 is less than 2007, when we were boarding out inmates, and very close to 2008 net.

My intent was to answer the oft-repeated question as to whether the boarders were "worth it." Moving from an unsafe 19th-century jail to a modern facility was necessary. Now we are doing the best we can for the county with our resources. Without boarders, my annual budget would be reduced by that $110,000, but in return, we would not be bringing in that $1.3 million to ease the tax burden on the citizens of Essex County, either.

I was elected by you, the people of Essex County, to provide a fiscally responsible level of service, both in public safety and in incarcerating those ordered here by the courts. With 35 years of experience with the sheriff's office, rising from deputy sheriff through the ranks to sheriff, I have experience in the operations and budgeting of this agency. I believe I have done my best to both provide public safety services to the people of the county and to run the correctional facility in the manner that will be the least burden on the taxpayer as well.



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