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Funds threaten Clinton jail

BY CORIANNE EGAN cegan@paducahsun.com

CLINTON - A tight budget and climbing expenses have left the Hickman County Detention Center on the verge of closing, and the county's dispatch could be forced to move out of the county.

Hickman County officials are mulling whether to close the jail and relocate its dispatch services to a neighboring county. The move would save the county about $352,000, but local safety crews are unhappy with the idea, saying it would complicate the county's already short-handed emergency response.

The jail's growing financial burden is a problem shared by many counties in Kentucky, brought on mainly by legislation that has reduced the number of state inmates.

Judge-Executive Greg Pruitt will give his Fiscal Court three options during this year's budget talks. The first leaves the jail open and keeps dispatch inside it, which is estimated to cost the county $696,000 for 2014-15. The second option shuts down the jail, but leaves dispatch inside the facility. That option would cost about $440,000, Pruitt said. A third option, which shuts down both and farms out dispatch to another facility, would cost $344,000, Pruitt said.

"Keeping dispatch open is my highest priority," Pruitt said. "If we can land on option number two, and it works out in our budget, that would be great. No one is taking this lightly. We are all concerned about one job being lost, let along 17. No one wants to close the jail or dispatch, but the money isn't there."

Closing the jail and dispatch would mean that 19 employees - 10 jail employees, five dispatchers and two contract positions - would be affected. The jailer position would still exist, but would be transformed into more of a transport officer position. Dispatch could be run through Fulton County, Carlisle County or Kentucky State Police. The Fulton County Detention Center in Hickman would most likely house Hickman County inmates.

Carlisle County, which currently uses the Hickman County jail, would have to find a new spot.

The Hickman County Detention Center opened in 2000, built to house 75 inmates. Chad Frizzell was elected jailer in 2006 at the age of 26, and the jail added 18 beds that year to meet the county's needs. In 2011, the jail was reduced to 80 beds. Although inmate numbers fluctuate, on Friday it was less than half full.

Frizzell's operating budget tops $1.1 million. The jail's funds come from state prisoner income, contracts with other agencies for dispatch services and a small amount of state money. 

Because of a decline in state inmates â “ prisoners with a sentence of one year or longer â “ Frizzell said the county's costs to run the jail are growing. He contributes the drop to House Bill 463, a two-year-old corrections reform bill that lessened sentences for hundreds of crimes with the intent of lowering prison populations statewide.

"It's slammed us," Frizzell said. "We're a small county, and there's less people going to jail now. We've required more and more from the general fund because the prisoner income is not as much."

With the county's financial woes, a change is needed, Pruitt said. The county's general fund totals $5.4 million, which makes the jail one of Hickman's biggest expenses.

The county has also taken on subsidizing its ambulance service, previously funded completely through a nonprofit.

Because one of the county's retirement homes closed, the ambulance service has been short on funding. Hickman County is now giving $10,000 per month to the service.

The county also is upping its expenditures on senior citizen services. Twenty-one percent of the county's residents are 65 or above, Pruitt said, and more dollars are needed in that area.

Last month, Frizzell, along with Sheriff Mark Green, Fire & Rescue Chief John R. Turner, Ambulance Service Director Paula Boaz, and Clinton City Manager Allen Poole, wrote an open letter to county citizens laying out their concerns over closing dispatch. The move could slow response times, they cautioned, and some are worried about outside dispatchers not having the same familiarity with the county as the Hickman County dispatchers do.

A decision on the jail's future will need to be made this month. Kentucky law states that candidates for jailer must know their intended salaries by the first Monday in May. Without a county jail, the jailer salary starts at $20,000. With the jail, the salary starts around $65,000.

There are six candidates for jailer, including Poole, jail employees and a city police officer. They are all running on the Democratic ticket, which means the position will be decided in the May primary.

Pruitt is not running for re-election. Frizzell will be running for judge-executive this election.

There is about $1.6 million in debt service left on the building. Frizzell estimates there are about 10 years left to pay on the detention center.

The Fiscal Court meets at 6:30 p.m. April 14. Pruitt said the options will be presented, but if a decision can't be reached, he will work with the Kentucky Association of Counties' legal department to see if Hickman County can get an extension because the decision is so important. 

Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.

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