Starke County Officials Struggle With Jail Budget

Starke County Justice CenterStarke County officials are looking at short and long-term ways to shore up operating expenses at the new jail. It has been open for about a year, and budgeted operating costs were based on an actuarial study done for the county. Information shared during last night’s joint meeting of the council and commissioners indicates those recommendations may have been based on flawed information.

At the time the study was done, Starke County was paying Pulaski County to house inmates due to issues with capacity at the facility across from the courthouse in downtown Knox. The staffing analysis performed for Starke County by the Indiana Sheriff’s Association apparently assumed the old jail was adequately staffed and the new facility would have a similar population, based on the discussion during last night’s meeting.

Budget and staffing considerations for the new facility were based on that analysis. In addition to now housing those inmates locally, changes to the state’s felony sentencing guidelines have lower-level felons serving their sentences in the county instead of a state prison. The Department of Correction pays the county a per dem for those inmates, as well as the ones in the pilot therapeutic community drug treatment program. However those payments run about three months in arrears, and the money goes into the county general fund instead of the sheriff’s budget. Meanwhile, the increase in inmate population requires more local resources.

Auditor Kay Chaffins and matron Chris Suprenant are going to work with the State Board of Accounts and see if a separate fund can be set up within the budget to earmark that money for the sheriff’s office.

In the short term the commissioners voted to accept a new contract with NIPSCO for utility services with a rate that will save an estimated $80,000 per year. Longer term solutions include the possible addition of solar panels to further reduce energy costs and the possible addition of a wind turbine. Councilman Brad Hazelton is looking into that possibility, including the availability of grants to offset construction costs.

County officials also want to talk to the judge and prosecutor to ensure sentences fit crimes in order to keep the jail population in check. They’re also hoping for greater utilization of the courtroom at the justice center by both Starke Circuit and Knox City court to save on prisoner transportation.

Additional discussions are expected at Monday’s regularly scheduled joint meeting of the council and commissioners.