When Hall County is facing a tough budget year, any small change can make a huge difference.
Warden Avery Niles has suggested a few tweaks in the way the county's inmates are used and supervised, which could save about $104,000.
Under the proposal, the county's departments will shift certified correctional officers and start "activated premium pay," which will pay an additional 5 percent when officers' duties include supervision of inmates.
During the past few weeks, Niles conducted an inmate utilization study to record how each of the county's departments uses inmates from the Correctional Institute and how to make the process "more efficient and save money."
"We looked at the departments internally to identify long-term cost-saving measures," Niles told the Board of Commissioners last week. "This included evaluating certain areas to determine the cost-benefits of current utilization."
The Correctional Institute, Human Resources, Public Works and Parks and Leisure departments listed their current certified officers and noted the challenges and advantages of using inmates for work. These departments include building, road and fleet maintenance, as well as solid waste, resource recovery and traffic engineering services.
"In order to obtain inmates from the Correctional Institute, a certified officer must supervise those inmates," he said. "The challenge was determining when to use those inmates and how the officers are being compensated as it relates to security."
The departments decided to make the process more efficient by eliminating inmate labor in some areas, reclassifying certain positions that oversee inmate labor and reducing inmate labor for positions that don't use it on a daily basis.
"One thing we found in some departments is that some officers weren't supervising the inmates but were getting inmate pay," Niles said. "We looked at every alternative to check the functionality and supervision of each particular officer."
After compiling the data, Niles determined the county saves 107 positions and approximately $3.6 million in salaries and benefits each year by using inmate labor.
Of the 240 inmates that stay in the county's Correctional Institute, about 160 are used on a daily basis in six or seven work details per day.
"The key thing is we want to make sure we're utilizing inmates efficiently and effectively, and we want to make sure the officers are truly engaged in supervision if we're going to pay the 5 percent," said Jock Connell, interim county administrator. "We do think there are benefits beyond the $104,000 in savings."
Although meetings to discuss the changes were tense, Connell hopes staff members can move forward.
"Some internal meetings were tense and aggressive, but this will get us back to a good foundation and starting point," he said. "We tried to bite this apple a different way, and if it doesn't work, we'll come back and try it again. I think we're moving in the right direction."