Prisoners released due to jail crowdingPublished 8:15pm Tuesday, October 9, 2012
ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County’s jail was found to be in complete compliance when the department of corrections conducted its annual inspection Sept. 12-13.
The jail’s 341-inmate capacity continues to be exceeded.
In August, judges suspended 31 sentences due to overcrowding.
Another 29 prisoners were released early in September, the county board’s administration committee heard Thursday.
There were 177 females booked into jail in August and 144 during September.
County Administrator Bill Wolf is chipping away at a $519,000 gap in the 2013 spending plan between $51.9 million expenditures and $52.4 million revenues.
Wolf proposes moving the $153,890 marine patrol from the general fund into public safety millage. Also, that the sheriff reduce motorcycle usage by half.
“We’ve got six bikes,” Wolf said, so “involve four at an average event, $28 an hour straight salary, 62 events a year. The bikes are free, but we pay for every hour one of our officer’s rides. There’s an upward trend both in the jail and road patrol. This year we saw a $37,000 increase in overtime to $411,000. We could recover $20,000 from the motorcycle team to apply to overtime expenses.”
Wolf suggested defunding the drug education coordinator deputy in the jail budget to save $81,076 in salary and benefits and moving her to a vacant slot within the department.
“Then,” Wolf said, “if crime prevention is an activity the sheriff needs to continue, use the marine lieutenant in the off-season down time when we’re not on the water with boats.”
“I feel queasy using public safety millage for marine patrol,” Commissioner John LaMore of Niles said. “That’s drug money.”
“They sold it as a drug millage. It was broader in its original conception,” Wolf responded. “The public has supported renewal. We need to squeeze more into that public safety millage. We have $36,000 uncommitted. The sheriff requested an additional narcotics detective, taking him from nine to 10, plus a secretary. I propose we not approve the new position and take one other position, so his team goes from nine to eight.
“I feel extremely uncomfortable stepping into this level of micromanaging an individual department, but if the department doesn’t, that’s my statutory obligation as controller. I’m open to other suggestions if he doesn’t want the marine lieutenant to do crime prevention. There are 159 people in the sheriff’s department. We’re not going to fall back into the political game of road patrol cuts that jeopardize county public safety,” Wolf said.
Wolf’s budget chops 21.7 fulltime equivalents. The health department has reduced by 37 percent since 2006.
“Even with what I’m proposing, you’re talking about a 2 percent increase” for the $18 million sheriff’s department.
“You’ve been scraping on the bottom of the barrel until sparks are coming from it,” LaMore said.
“We have lost 15 deputies since I became sheriff,” said Sheriff Paul Bailey, who has been working for the county 12 year.
“I have nine assigned to the drug unit and two dogs. Those two dog units most of the year fill in vacancies” with two officers are on prolonged leaves — one for an on-duty injury and the other on military family leave.
“I have seven people left to do very dangerous drug investigations,” Bailey said.
“Most people we deal with are convicted felons already. I have two openings right now I can leave to save $180,000, but I plead with you to keep up with drug enforcement, which improves the quality of life in Berrien County.”
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