Thirteen years ago, City and County leaders asked the citizens of Tulsa County to approve the building and operating of a new jail through a new authority -- The Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority (TCCJA). For the first time, all of the cities in Tulsa County would be users of the new jail. To protect all parties' interests, it was decided the Trustees would be made up the three County Commissioners and four area Mayors (including the Tulsa Mayor).
Each Trustee, including then Mayor Susan Savage, signed the Trust document for the new jail which said, in part, "The city and town beneficiaries shall not have any right to house any of their respective prisoners without payment of appropriate costs as determined by the governing body of the County of Tulsa" (Section VIII (c)). It was clearly contemplated that the payment of a daily fee by those municipalities using the jail was reasonable. This language in the Trust document has not been changed, and charging all of the cities, including the City of Tulsa, for using the jail has been an option from the beginning.
Though the current City administration takes the position that news reports and letters from 10 years ago stated that the City would never have to pay to use the jail, in the end all that matters is what is found in the Trust document.
The City of Tulsa has always believed that its usage of the jail had value. That is why for the first 10 years instead of the City paying a daily inmate fee it instead had offered what it considered approximately $700,000 worth of space either for the Sheriff or for his usage. But in the 10 years since that agreement was made, the value, usage, and benefit of this "property swap" has diminished while the cost of inmate services has increase. Therefore, the County and the Sheriff want to forego in this next contract a "property for inmate care" arrangement and operate on a strictly daily inmate fee basis.
This is an issue only with the City of Tulsa because most, if not all, of the other cities in Tulsa County have their own local jail for the incarceration of individuals who violate their municipal codes. The City of Tulsa does not have a jail because it chose to get out of the jail business and, instead, would purchase jail services from the TCCJA.
With this as background, the important points are:
By charging the City of Tulsa a daily fee, all municipalities are treated fairly and equally in terms of what they pay and when they pay for jail services.
Tulsa County, not the City, carries all exposure and liability if an inmate files a civil suit
All fees paid by the local municipalities for jail services go to the TCCJA to operate the jail. Tulsa County does not receive this money.
The City currently charges the Sheriff over $1 million dollars per year for services that are provided by the City, such as radio, lab, records, and technology services. Neither the Sheriff nor the TCCJA has ever asked the City to provide these services for free.
The 10-year-old, 40,000-square-foot jail which operations 24/7 365 days a year under some of the more hardest conditions has a growing list of capital improvements and maintenance needs. The dedicated sales tax is only used to operate the jail. In order to meet the capital needs, the charging of the daily fee is a reasonable way to plan ahead without having to look for additional sources of funding in the future.
While the City is working to provide public services under difficult economic times, it could easily attach a "jail cost" to all cases and citations handled through the Municipal Court, much like the District Court adds costs for a variety of court related services and functions. For FY 09 the City projected revenue from fines and forfeitures of $10 million.
A small 10 percent increase on the fines and costs would raise an additional $1 million.
It has been characterized that the county has refused to budge on its offered rate. This is incorrect. The County started the negotiations by making an offer of a daily rate. It never said the offer was the best or last offer that would be made only the first offer. But the City never made an offer above zero. It's not good negotiation practice to bid against yourself when the other side won't move. If or when the City does put a proposed daily rate on the table the County and the Sheriff will give it serious evaluation.
The County still hopes, perhaps through binding arbitration, that this matter can be resolved quickly. The citizens deserve no less.
(Terry A. Simonson - Chief Deputy, Tulsa County Commission, and Public Information Officer)
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