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Updated: 12/09/2012 08:00:03AM

Shifting more costs to counties

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The Florida Association of Counties is rallying its troops to quash a proposal being floated in Tallahassee to shift inmates from state prisons to local jails, which also could shift costs to local governments and create overcrowding at local facilities.

It sounds like a terrible idea, and at this point it’s questionable whether the proposal will gain any traction in the Legislature. County officials throughout the state hope to kill it off before it gains momentum; legislators have steered clear so far. Still, there’s always a possibility.

The proposal came from the Department of Corrections after what was said to be an in-house exercise to find ways to reduce costs. According to the plan, by revising the method of calculating the amount of time served by inmates before trial, more convicts would end up staying in local jails and not sent off to state prisons. Apparently, far more.

The Association of Counties estimates 5,600 inmates would remain in the jails under the new system. And the cost to counties? Some $100 million a year. The projected savings to the state? More than $47 million a year.

That makes no sense for taxpayers. On the face of it, it’s another unfunded mandate that would impose a dramatic cost-shift onto local governments.

Polk County officials reviewed a briefing paper prepared by county staff on the matter recently and did not like what the numbers foretold. Commissioners were told that if the state idea turned into reality, Polk County would need a larger jail. And guess who would have to pay for it?

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office says the move by the statue would require spending $20 million to increase the size of the county jail and it would cost an additional $7.5 million per year to maintain a new jail facility that would be required to meet the mandate.

Polk County Commissioner Melony Bell called the idea “crazy” and it was clear that commissioners intend to fight the move and lobby our local legislative delegation to oppose it, as well.

Will this get off the ground? Like so many other ideas that percolate up before the beginning of the legislative session, this may be just a trial balloon that will deflate quickly.

Let’s hope so.