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Parish seeks prisoner care rate increase solution

 

VIDALIA — Though the Concordia Parish Police Jury members say they cannot afford the entirety of the prisoner care rate increase proposed by the sheriff’s office, jurors said a compromise is possible.

At last week’s regular meeting, the jury elected to pay the prisoner care bills from September, October and November at the previous rate of $5.50 per day. The sheriff’s office has requested $18.39 per day for parish prisoners who are housed at the facility on Louisiana 15, while the $5.50 rate would still apply for prisoners housed at the courthouse.

The increase would more than double what the police jury has budgeted for prisoner care. Currently, the jury has budgeted $158,000 for the upcoming year, but the $13 per prisoner, per day addition would more than double the budget. The monthly bills submitted have ranged from $30,000 to $40,000.

Juror Jimmy Jernigan said Thursday the parish cannot afford the $18.39 rate.

The parish’s finance committee and the sheriff’s office look to meet sometime in January about this issue.

“We are not just going to tell him (Sheriff Kenneth Hedrick) no,” Jernigan said. “If there is anything we can do to help, we would like to try to work something out.”

The jury has already approved its 2017 budget with prisoner care listed at $158,000. The total general fund budget is approximately $2.8 million and features a $280,000 deficit.

Jernigan said with Fruit of the Loom looking to vacate in March the parish will be hurt, as the facility represents approximately $200,000 in tax income.

The parish has also faced cuts from the state, but Jernigan said he knows the sheriff’s office is also facing funding cuts.

“We have got a good relationship with the sheriff,” Jernigan said. “If we can afford to bend a little, we are willing to help.”

Incoming Police Jury President Whest Shirley said he is looking forward to putting all the financial information on the table and meeting with the sheriff to work something out.

Shirley said the jury and the sheriff’s office were supposed to meet earlier during the fall, but so far have only met informally.

During the parish’s October meeting, the jury asked the sheriff’s office to resubmit the bills at the $5.50 rate and they would be paid. The bills were not resubmitted at a different rate for the December meeting, but Juror Joe Parker motioned to pay the bill for the previous three months at the lower rate.

Hedrick could not be reached for comment, but in the past he has said the jury would not have a choice but to pay the increased rate.

The sheriff also has said he would hold additional comments until the two parties sit down to discuss the rate of pay for prisoner care.

Hedrick has said increasing costs of food and labor make the $5.50 rate no longer feasible.