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Morgan jail running under budget

By Sheryl Marsh 340-2437

A year ago Morgan County officials started tightening their grip on funds in fear that the $23 million jail would break the coffers.

So far, that has not happened.

Instead, the jail is running under budget.

County Commission office records show that out of a $4,116,933 budget, $2,470,003 has been spent since Oct. 1, the beginning of this fiscal year.

"Everything is in top shape even with the bond payment on the jail," said Chairman John Glasscock.

He conceded there was a lot of uncertainty about the jail costs, but he said that has changed.

"We had a lot of unknowns in operating expenses and for such things as furniture, supplies and equipment for the jail," Glasscock said. "We were worried in 2004 about funding the operation of the jail, so we lowered budgets and didn't give a cost-of-living pay raise to employees, and that helped."

Some commissioners are cautiously optimistic.

"I know over time the cost was high to start with," District 1 Commissioner Jeff Clark said. "I don't think the figures are in for the fourth pod that had to be opened and that's probably going to be substantially more than the three. I'm glad there's a report showing that, but I don't think it's going to stay that way."

Three pods house male inmates and one is for females. The sheriff got commission approval months ago to open a fourth pod and to hire additional staff due to an increase in jail population.

District 3 Commissioner Kevin Murphy has similar thoughts.

"That's great," said Murphy. "I think the final story will be at the end of the year when we look at the whole thing.'

District 4 Commissioner Stacy George said numbers might change, but he gives Sheriff Greg Bartlett the credit for managing the jail properly.

"It's obvious that the sheriff is doing a good job," said George. "I don't think the commission can take credit for it because all we do is approve his budget."

District 2 Commissioner Ken Livingston said, "I think we're actually better off financially than they predicted we would be. Next year we may be down a little bit. We're half way into the year so we'll have to see what the last part of the year will do. It's good the jail is under budget."

Bartlett said his goal is to manage the jail and Sheriff's Department as economically as possible.

"The first year was kind of a guess," Bartlett said. "When we started trying to do the budget, we had to do a lot of guessing about some things. We may have guessed a little low on a few things, but the rest works out pretty good. We went to 12-hour shifts that helped coverage and stopped us from having to call people in to cover shift absences. We're hoping everything keeps going the way it is now and as far as I can tell we should be within budget at the end of the year."

Deputy Administrator Carol Long said if jail spending keeps the same pace through Sept. 30 the sheriff will remain within budget.

Currently, the commission has $1,005,395 budgeted for interest payment on bonds that financed the jail, according to Long. The county will start paying the principal amount of a 2003 $12 million bond in 2009 and principal payments on an $11 million 2004 bond will begin in 2020. The payments will total $715,000, Long said.

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