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(No Audio) Who Pays to House State Prisoners in County Jails

Springfield, MO Faced with the state's tight budget, lawmakers voted to reduce there imbursement the state pays counties for housing state prisoners in county jails. With the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, many counties are feeling the impact of the reduction. As KSMU's Missy Shelton reports, county officials are mad and are threatening to take the issue to court. Dave Coonrod is Greene County's presiding commissioner. He says the state is twisting the law to justify a decrease in state reimbursement to counties for keeping state prisoners in county jails.

The state reduction equals a loss to counties of 2 dollars and 50 cents per day per inmate. At issue is a 1996 state law that prevents the payments from falling below the rate of the previous year.

What is meant by "the previous year" is a matter of debate. State officials like budget director Brian Long say the previous year means the year before the law was enacted, not the previous calendar year.

Under that scenario, the state is still above the 17-dollar reimbursement rate in effect before the 1996 law. Long says under the counties' interpretation of the law, there would always be an increase and no chance of a decrease. But forcing lawmakers to appropriate more money each year is the goal, according to Greene county commissioner Darrell Decker.

He says it costs 35 to 50 dollars a day for the county jail to house one state prisoner. He says the state should work its way toward paying the majority of the cost.

The chair of the senate appropriations committee, republican John Russell says he doesn't want to hurt counties financially.

He says the majority of committee members and ultimately a majority in the full house and senate voted to reduce the reimbursements. He says in tight budget times, lawmakers are looking for ways to stretch state dollars.

The head of the Missouri Association of Counties says his group may take the issue to court. That would provide a clear interpretation of how the law sets the minimum reimbursement.

Governor Bob Holden said this week he's willing to let the courts decide'the governor says he didn't recommend this reduction in his budget proposal but believes the state can reduce the reimbursements.

In the meantime, Greene County presiding commissioner Dave Coonrod says reserve funds will cover the added expenses.

Even if a court ruling ordered the state to pay the additional 2 dollars and 50 cents per inmate per day, it would take some time for counties to get that money. Funds would have to be set aside in a supplemental budget bill drawn up during the next legislative session, which begins next January.