The Franklin County Commissioners have voted not to pay an extra $50,000 bill by the state jail system as part of series of systemwide cutbacks and fee increases aimed at wiping out a $1.2 million shortfall in state funding for county jails.

Franklin County officials have been critical of the unified system, which started five years ago and reduced the Franklin County Jail to a 72-hour holding center that pays the state to board out its long-term prisoners elsewhere.

On Tuesday, the commissioners voted 3-0 to pay $315,000 to the state instead of the $365,000 the county was being invoiced in the state’s semi-annual billing. The county is set to be invoiced an additional $50,000 twice this fiscal year, for a total of $100,000.

Ryan Thornell, executive director of the state Board of Corrections, said Franklin County officials had not informed the state board of its intention. He said since the county has not been in communication with the state board, it is too early to know how the board will respond to the commissioners’ vote and how it will affect the state jail system.

The unified system of the state’s 15 county jails has been mired in financial problems for five years, which jail officials repeatedly said undermines their ability to create new programs that break the cycle of inmates being rearrested.

After an extensive redrafting process, new jail system legislation was passed in May with the goal of strengthening the system’s governing board. While the emergency legislation came with $1.2 million to plug last year’s funding gap, the system is once again facing a sizable shortfall.

While Thornell previously said he is hopeful the financial problems will be fixed in the next state budget cycle, this year the board will be either reducing funding to county jails or, in Franklin County’s case, increasing the amount of bills for boarding the county’s prisoners elsewhere.

The decision was made to increase the bill to Franklin County because the county had about a $100,000 surplus in previous years, which Franklin County Commissioners Chairman Fred Hardy said is an unfair response to the town cutting costs and saving money.

Hardy has long been a critic of the state system, which he has said unfairly ties his county to the state’s financial problems even if the county has been fiscally responsible.

The surplus money has been earmarked for corrections, so it cannot be returned to the taxpayer or used to relieve the tax burden; but Hardy said there are jail expenses that the money could be spent on.

“We’ve got some things we have to get done that we can use that money for,” he said, adding that the money is also security for unexpected expenses.

The county officials have been consulting with an attorney about whether they were legally bound to pay the additional $100,000 this fiscal year.

Hardy said they did not get direct advice from the attorney on whether to pay, but said they were advised to consult with their auditor on where the specific savings were that led to the $100,000 annual surplus. He said the commissioners decided not to pay the auditor to go through their financial information and add up where the cost savings were incurred.

Both Hardy and the county commissioners’ office said they did not have a due date by which Franklin County would need to pay the state, but officials traditionally pay one invoice in the fall and one invoice in the spring.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]

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