DeSoto mayors balk at proposed county jail charge

Published 4:57 pm Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mayors in DeSoto County are objecting to a proposal to charge their cities $20 a day plus medical expenses to house inmates in the county jail.

In a report issued Friday, a jail committee established by the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors recommended that each city be required to pay the fee beginning Oct. 1.

Several mayors in the county took issue with the plan, arguing that county taxes paid by city residents help pay for operation of the county jail.

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Supervisors say the charges are warranted because the county isn’t required by state law to house prisoners for municipal police departments in the county jail. Supervisor Bill Russell said taxpayers who live in areas outside cities have been subsidizing the jail costs.

The planned fee was one of several recommendations in the board’s jail committee report. Also recommended was the construction of a jail for 400 to 500 male prisoners and conversion of the existing jail in Hernando to serve women, juveniles and pretrial detainees.

Supervisors have made a new jail their top priority for capital improvement spending, and some said it might take a tax increase to pay for construction.

The committee report said, “No municipality in DeSoto County has paid for the housing of its inmates in recent years and no contract exists between the county and cities. Some modest medical reimbursements have been provided, but only what has been collected by the cities from the inmate.”

Medical care for inmates is a major issue for the county, which has faced large hospital bills for prisoner care.

Supervisors recently approved interim contracts for the county to house city inmates after discovering that such contracts, required by state law, didn’t exist.

Russell, who was a member of the jail committee, said discussions had begun with city officials about cost-sharing arrangements.

“This is not a shock to the cities,” Russell said. “We’ve had several meetings, and they’re fully aware of the situation.”

Mayor Greg Davis of Southaven said the fee amounts to a “double taxation issue.”

“Our argument is that city residents pay county taxes, and we would be paying twice,” Davis said. “If I am not mistaken, 78 percent of revenue in property taxes are within the municipalities.”

Mayor Sam Rikard of Olive Branch declined comment, saying he was unaware of any formal proposal or decisions being made.

Horn Lake Mayor Nat Baker said he doesn’t think the prisoner fee is fair for the cities.

“We pay a county tax to run the jail, and to pass another fee onto the cities is excessive and unfair in my opinion,” Baker said. “If they raise the taxes, it should be a countywide tax increase, because crime is a countywide matter. They shouldn’t just raise the taxes on the cities. It should be across the board.”

If the county forces the issue of the $20 a day prisoner fee, Baker said, Horn Lake will look at alternatives with its prisoners, including possibly expanding its community service programs rather than sending them to county jail.