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City of Thornton letter to Adams County, October 25, 2011

City of Thornton letter to Adams County, October 25, 2011

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City of Thornton's response to Adams County regarding the sheriff's proposal to charge for housing inmates.
City of Thornton's response to Adams County regarding the sheriff's proposal to charge for housing inmates.

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Published by: TonysRants on Nov 16, 2011
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11/16/2011

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City of Thornton

CityHaU 9500 Civic Center Drive Thornton. Colorado 80229-4326 City Managers Office 303-538-7200 FAX 303-538-7562 www.cityofthornton.net

October 25, 2011 Adams County Board of Commissioners Honorable Alice Nichol Honorable W. R. "Skip" Fischer Honorable Erik Hansen 4430 South Adams County Parkway Brighton, CO 80601 Dear Commissioners: After considerable discussion at a recent meeting, the Thornton City Council has taken the position that it doesn't support either Option A or Option B. The Council views the provision of Jail Services as a basic public safety service that our residents are paying for through their property taxes. They do not believe implementing either one of these options serves the public interest nor will it provide the budgetary savings the County is seeking. Background. On October 14, 2011, the Adams County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) held a meeting in the County Administrative building with the Sheriff, District Attorney and Mayors and Managers from throughout the County. The stated purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Sheriffs proposed plan to place a cap on municipal prisoners held in the Adams County Jail. The Sheriff has previously stated he was taking such action due to the impacts on jail staffing resulting from a hiring freeze that the BOCC had implemented in the County. At the beginning of the meeting, a document was distributed that outlined two options regarding the housing of municipal inmates in the County Jail. Both options applied only to municipal inmates and would restrict the cities' access to jail services and/or significantly increase the cost to most of the cities to utilize the County's Jail services. It was clear that the construct of the meeting to provide an opportunity for the County to propose two options to address budget issues rather than provide a forum for the many policy makers and managers in attendance to discuss alternatives. The BOCC indicated they had identified a goal to close three pods in the County Jail, but did not provide any information as to the budgetary savings they were trying to achieve. The BOCC requested the cities' review the two options and indicate which option each had selected at a follow-up meeting on October 25, 2011. The purpose of this letter is to provide a response to the BOCC's request. Our response is based, in part, on information we have gleaned from Adams County budget documents and Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports available on the County's website

Adams County Board of Commissioners October 25, 2011 Page 2 and/or information shared by the Sheriff and other County staff. We had requested information regarding the operation of the Jail and the savings that could be attributed to closing three pods, and were informed that information would be provided to us but this information was not available at the time of this writing. Therefore this document relies on the information that was available to us, as noted in this paragraph. As noted previously, we understand that the SOCC has a desire to reduce the staffing required to operate the jail through the closing of three "pods" which requires a requisite reduction in the average daily jail population ("ADP") to approximately 1,100. The primary proposed strategy to enable closing three pods is to reduce the number of beds that historically have been provided to the cities from 130 to 30. We have been unable to obtain any estimate of the savings associated with closing three "pods" from the County but, based on the limited data we have regarding the operation of the Jail, we estimate that closing three pods (each pod being able to accommodate 64 inmates each for a total of 192) would allow the County to eliminate twelve positions--the equivalent number of positions needed to provide two staff 24 hrs/7 days per week. This reduction in staffing would save the County approximately $1 Million over a period of a year. The concern the cities have is that the proposed cut in Jail services will have a significant impact on the cities, but virtually no impact on the inmates coming through the State Court system that utilize the Jail. According to the Adams County 2011 Abstract of Assessment, 75% of all property tax collected by Adams County comes from the cities (incorporated areas) in the County. Over the last several years, property tax revenues have accounted for approximately 71.5% of the County's General Fund-which is where the Sheriff's Department expenditures are budgeted. When you do the math (75% times 71.5%), this means that property owners in the County's cities contribute almost 54% of General Fund revenues. We submit that the cities' taxpayers currently provide more revenue to the County than the services they receive. In 2011, the budget to operate the County Jail/Justice Center was a little over $31 million. After deducting the revenues directly attributable to the Jail/Justice Center, the remaining budget of $29 million is paid for by property taxes. The cities' taxpayers pick up 54% of this cost yet, on average, municipal inmates have historically accounted for about 10% of the ADP. Adams County is proposing to reduce municipal inmates from historical numbers ranging from 110 to 130 per day to a "soft cap" of 30 municipal inmates per day in order to achieve the over-all goal of 1,100 ADP. At this "soft cap" level, municipal inmates in the Adams County Jail would account for only about 2.7% of the ADP. Another example of where the cities' taxpayers are providing more revenue to the County than the services they receive is the Sheriff's Office patrol and detectives

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Adams County Board of Commissioners October 25, 2011 Page 3 operations. Most of the services provided by the Sheriff's Office for patrol and detectives are directed towards the unincorporated areas of the County, yet 54% of the costs of these services are being paid for by the cities. The housing of municipal inmates is a key service the County has provided to the cities for many decades funded through the property taxes paid by the cities. We strongly object to reducing this level of service when our cities are already paying more than our fair share of the costs to operate the jail. We have learned that Arapahoe and Jefferson County's Jails have 80-100 municipal inmates on any given day. There are no caps or fees, currently or planned, for housing municipal inmates as these counties continue to recognize the significance of the taxes paid by municipal property owners. In Arapahoe and Jefferson County Jails, municipal inmates account for 7 to 8% of total average daily population (ADP). The current staffing level for the Adams County Jail as included in the 2011 Budget compares with Arapahoe and Jefferson County Jails as reflected in the following table. County Jail Adams Arapahoe Jefferson Avg Daily Population 1100 1174 1170 Budgeted Staff Level 285 403.5 375 Staff per Inmate .26 .34 .32 Inmates per Staff 3.86 2.91 3.12

Based on the above analysis, it appears to us that Adams County Jail staffing level, before any adjustments, is below these two similar counties. The City does not support either Option A or Option B as proposed by the BOCC. We recognize that the BOCC is attempting to address a budgetary issue through this strategy. However, we would propose a third option - Option C - which outlines a number of strategies that could potentially have a much greater budgetary impact without the unintended consequences associated with placing a cap on municipal prisoners. OPTION C 1. Transfer Longer-Term Prisoners to Lower-Cost Jails. In a letter from the BOCC dated December 15, 2010, it was reported that it costs the County $88 per day for each prisoner in its Jail. It is our understanding that other county jails (Park, and Washington) have unused capacity that is available at a lower cost than Adams County as follows:

Adams County Board of Commissioners October 25, 2011 Page 4

Unused capacity Transportation Cost Cost per day Includes meals, basic medical

Park 150 beds No charge $45 Yes

Washington 50 beds $47.50p_er bus load $45 Yes

In the Adams County Jail Bed Utilization Analysis, dated August 27, 2011, it was reported that 58% of the beds in the Jail (693 out of 1,195 in July 2011) were being consumed by inmates serving over 90 days. The consultant further elaborated that it is the longer-term inmates that place more of a burden on a jail operation than the 20% of inmates serving sentences of 30 days or less. If Adams County were to transfer 200 of its prisoners who are serving the longer sentences to a jail(s) with a $45 per diem fee, it could save the County $9,000 per day or over $3.3 Million annually. This is certainly has a much greater budgetary impact than closing three pods ($1 Million annually). In the short term, such an approach should be pursued in lieu of placing unreasonable constraints on housing municipal prisoners. In the long term, a study should be conducted to determine how these jail facilities are able to provide detention services at such a lower cost than Adams County. In addition, we would recommend exploring whether there are other more cost effective ways to provide detention services such as using private prisons or using contract certified jail personnel from private prisons that may be available for less cost to the County than the Sheriffs employees. 2. Reduce Over-Head Costs. Of the total authorized positions in the Sheriffs Department in 2011, approximately 22 positions are for finance, purchasing, human resources and information technology. These administrative support personnel report to the Sheriffs Department rather than to similar Department's providing services County-wide. One approach would be to transfer these functions back to other Adams County Departments which could reduce the overall number of positions required. Another approach to reducing the County's budget would be to consider consolidating these support services into a single "service-bureau" department which would provide services on a County-wide basis. The service-bureau would be guided by a Board of Directors which WOUld, in this case, include the Sheriff. This approach could create cost savings through efficiencies of scale rather than having the Sheriffs Office and other departments have their own independent operations. 3. Closely Manage Medical Care for Prisoners in Jail. It has been reported that the County spends approximately $5.3 Million annually for medical care of the prisoners in the Jail. The type and frequency of this medical care is provided by a third party vendor without any reported oversight by the County. We believe there

Adams County Board of Commissioners October 25, 2011 Page 5 could be significant cost savings if this care were managed more closely by County staff. Other area jails are not experiencing as high a per inmate cost on average. The following table reflects average medical costs per inmate in Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson County Jails. County Jail Adams Arapahoe Jefferson Avg Daily Population 1100 1174 1170 Annual Medical Costs $5.3M $4.3M $4.1M Avg Cost/Inmate/Day $13.20 $10.03 $ 9.60

If Adams County was able to achieve average medical cost per day as Arapahoe and Jefferson Counties, it could result in cost savings between $1 million to $1.2 million per year. 4. Create a Criminal Justice Commission to review the Jail issues and propose recommendations prior to implementing BaCC's Option A or Option B. We propose that a Criminal Justice Commission be created and initially tasked with reviewing the issues confronting the operation of the Jail (inmate management, financing, etc.) and developing recommendations to address those issues. This effort would be supported with existing staff and supplies from the County and cities and would not require any direct charges to any of the parties. Jefferson and Arapahoe Counties have such a Commission and in both instances, these Commissions are fully funded by the respective County budget. The establishment of such a Commission was recommended in the Adams County Jail Bed Utilization Analysis, dated August 27, 2011. As indicated by the Analysis consultant, one of the benefits of such a Commission is to study and analyze the data to identify the problem BEFORE determining the action. It appears to us that the proposal to limit municipal prisoners to 30 is a solution in search of a problem. As was said in the Analysis "Components of an effective response to these issues would include the existence of a criminal justice coordinating council (CJCC) and a formal planning process. The CJCC would bring all of the principals of the justice system together to discuss issues of common concern and to craft response to those concerns. A formal planning process would bring discipline to such endeavors and would help to assure the pertinence of the interventions to the issues being addressed." There have been numerous allegations that the cities are sentencing people to jail for petty offenses. The City of Thornton rejects that allegation out of hand and would welcome the Commission taking on this issue and working with the various entities to ensure that jail space is used appropriately and wisely. The Commission's review should also include evaluating other appropriate alternatives to incarceration. 5. Reconsider Vacancy Policy for Essential Services. It is our understanding that the County has prepared a 2012 Preliminary General Fund Budget that projects

Adams County Board of Commissioners October 25, 2011 Page 6 the use of $7.5 million in fund balance to balance the budget, not including a salary plan which has yet to be determined. We would urge the BOCC not to take the same approach utilized in 2011 to reduce the use of fund balance-that of freezing vacant positions and utilizing vacancy savings to reduce the use of fund balance. This approach creates particular difficulties for those operations, such as the Sheriffs Department, which have a significant recruitment and training lead time before new hires can be put "on the line". Rather, we would urge the BOCC to reconsider filling essential services vacancies so as not to create a gap in service levels. 6. Reconsider Fund Balance Policy. We understand that the BOCC would prefer not to utilize fund balance to fund on-going operations but that may be appropriate in order to maintain key essential service levels. A review of the financial reserve policies of Adams County, several Adams County cities, and a number of other counties and cities along the Front Range indicates that although Adams County's adopted General Fund reserve policy (20%) is in line with the average (18%), the actual amount of the County's General unreserved fund balance as compared to annual expenditures is significantly higher (60%) than the average of these same jurisdictions (30%) as of December 31, 2010. In other words, it appears that Adams County has adequate reserves that could be used to bridge the shortfall in the County's revenues during the current economic downturn. We would ask that rather than imposing significant reductions in levels of service to the County's taxpayers, such as that proposed in the Jail service, the BOCC reconsider its policy on utilizing fund balance reserves to maintain critical services. Conclusion. The elected officials and voters from cities in Adams County have historically supported the additional funding required for the construction and expansion of our Jail facilities to ensure the County and cities can provide adequate public safety services to its residents and businesses. The governments in the County have previously always been able to work cooperatively to address issues of public safety. We cannot recall any caps on municipal inmates other than temporary caps immediately prior to the construction or expansion of new jail facilities. Cities have never been charged daily fees for its prisoners held in the Adams County Jail. In fact in the July 20, 1990 edition of the Denver Post, Adams County Commissioner Jim Nelms was quoted as saying, "We certainly don't want to say to the communities, 'No, you can't use our jail,' because I think we've had a pretty good working relationship with them, and I know they were sold on the idea 'back our new jail and you can use it.'" The State laws that authorized municipal courts were intended to assist the county and state courts with growing case loads. The County's municipal court systems are fully funded by the cities and free up hundreds of thousands of dollars that the County would have to fund if hundreds of "jailable" municipal cases were filed in the County. The City of Thornton, alone, invests nearly $1.4 Million to support our Municipal Court operations and other communities likely are making similar

Adams County Board of Commissioners October 25, 2011 Page 7 investments. The filing of "jailable" offenses by the cities with the County will significantly increase the County's costs for prosecution and adjudication, while having little, if any, reduction in the load on the County's Jail. Yet, that is where we appear to find ourselves. Ironically, this is what gave rise to State laws creating municipal court systems. If the BOCC proceeds to implement Option A or Option B, the City Council has authorized staff to proceed to file our cases (approximately 600 cases annually) in Adams County District Court commencing as soon as next week if that happens. We would urge the BOCC to delaying implementing Option . A or Option B and chose Option C in order to: • Provide time for the SOCC and the Sheriff Department to have discussions about staffing levels and setting basic public safety service levels. Provide an opportunity to further evaluate the alternatives identified which could aid the County in saving over $3 million, which is in excess of the $1 million associated with closing three pods, to deal with the budgetary impacts of the current downturn. Provide time for the Sheriff Department operate the Jail. to recruit and train staff to

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Provide for a higher level of coordination and cooperation through the creation of the Criminal Justice Commission. The involvement of all the communities and the Court system are critical to identifying outcomes th II parties are invested in. '7'1-.~

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