As counterintuitive as it may seem, there's at least one downside to having fewer accused criminals residing in Hall County — less money for the county.
The Hall County Jail is currently housing about 60 percent fewer Fulton County inmates compared to what it was last year, according to Capt. Mark Bandy of the Hall County Sheriff's Office, as Fulton officials try to slash their budget.
That reduction in inmates, if sustained, could mean an estimated loss of $37,800 per week in sheriff's office revenues compared to what it collected last year. Those numbers were calculated by The Times based on Bandy's report to the Hall County Board of Commissioners on Monday. Attempts to confirm that estimate with the sheriff's office on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Although Hall County officials say the reduction in inmates will not drastically affect the current budget, the county is beginning to talk about how to make up the difference.
Fulton County began removing inmates from the Hall jail and transferring them back to its own jail earlier this year because Fulton cut its outsourcing budget in an overall budget-balancing effort. Bandy told the Hall commission on Monday that last year Hall County Jail housed about 250 Fulton inmates at a time on average; currently, there are about 100. Although Fulton has signaled it would return some those of numbers to Hall County later this year, Bandy said.
Housing Fulton inmates has been a major source of
revenue for the county jail's boarding program.
Hall charges Fulton $36 per day per inmate if it houses more than 100 and $45 per day if there are fewer than 100.
In 2010, Fulton paid Hall $3,681,720 to house its inmates.
Receipts for fiscal 2011 show the overall boarding program pulled in $6.2 million, compared to the budgeted amount of $5.6 million. The jail also houses other non-Hall inmates from the U.S. Marshals Service and Forsyth County, Bandy said.
Fulton's decision to reduce outsourcing prisoner costs was prompted by a decrease in population at its jail due to fewer arrests, said Tracy Flanagan, public information officer for the Fulton County Sheriff's Office.
Finding new inmates from another county may not be so easy.
Based on recent phone conversations with neighboring counties, Bandy said, it seems there are fewer jail inmates across the state right now.
Despite the recent drop, Bandy said, Fulton officials have indicated they will start putting more inmates back in Hall jails.
"When their (inmate) counts start going up, which it will when it starts warming up, they'll send us some more inmates," Bandy told the commission.
Commissioner Ashley Bell encouraged the sheriff's office to plan for a long-term reduction of Fulton prisoners.
"It's imperative on our end that we begin to look at a way to make up this money," Bell said. "I don't think it's going to be here in the long haul."
Bell predicted Fulton officials could look for a long-term solution to jail overcrowding.
That call reiterated comments made by Hall Sheriff Steve Cronic earlier this month.
"If this turns out to be a permanent trend with what Fulton County is doing ... we would have to go back to our expenses related to the program and then adjust them according(ly)," Cronic told The Times.
Hall Chairman Tom Oliver said there was an obvious silver lining in the recent news — that's fewer accused criminals in Hall County.
He asked, "Would you rather have more criminals bringing more revenue?"