Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Harrison County raises juvenile detention contract fees

By Robin Y. Richardson
July 26, 2017 at 4 a.m.

A financial feasibility study of the short- and long-term operation of the county's juvenile detention center has been completed, suggesting that the county isn't charging enough to house out-of-jurisdiction detainees.

"I think we got a good report," Harrison County Judge Hugh Taylor told commissioners. "We got what we asked for, which was an analysis of our program versus programs around the state, so I think we've got a product we can use in the future."

He said the study revealed what they projected regarding the rates that the county currently charges to house out-of-jurisdiction detainees at Harrison's 24-bed facility, Willoughby. Thus, the juvenile board - consisting of Taylor, 71st District Judge Brad Morin and County Court-at-Law Judge and board chair Joe Black - recently met, upping the fees from $85 a person per day to $100.

"I think the evidence is, although we are in direct competition with Gregg County juvenile detention, at $85 a night, that's far below what the cost in the service is in real terms," Taylor noted during a recent budget hearing with county commissioners.

"I believe we will continue to attract clients at the new contract amount," he told the News Messenger Tuesday.

The county hired the Griffith, Moseley, Johnson and Associates consulting firm back in January to perform the financial feasibility study on the facility. At the time, Taylor said the study was to determine if it was truly cost effective for the county to handle its own juvenile detention in-house or contract it to another jurisdiction, outside of the county.

Taylor said at last week's budget hearing that he believes the program is solid enough to make minor changes, like upping the fees of outside agencies.

"We've done a little better on revenue there (at Willoughby) so their budget is in good shape, going into 2018," he said. "I think it may be hasty to make a dramatic move this budget season when our revenue is solid there.

"I think we've got a good basis to go forward with and manage that out there, and watch for revenue," he said.

Daren Forehand, the county's juvenile services director, actively worked on the questionnaire the firm provided to assist them with their process in the study. Information sought included the actual average number of juveniles over the last fiscal years, the number of short-term residents versus long-term; and the number of out-of county juvenile residents versus in-county residents.

Forehand noted that the feasibility study covered a three-year period, from 2014 to 2016. Through that three-year period, the county contracted with 15 different jurisdictions to house their detainees.

"Every year is different, depending on those counties needs," Forehand said of the specific counties that may contract with Harrison throughout the years.

Counties that have had contracts with Harrison over the three-year period include: Upshur, Red River, Panola, Nacogdoches, Kaufman, Jefferson, Bowie, Cass, Titus, Shelby, Fannin, Rusk, Marion, Smith and sometimes Gregg.

According to the feasibility study, the average daily total of combined detainees (local and out-of-county) was 16.38 for that three-year period. The total average daily population for only local detainees over the three-year period was 10.64; out-of-county was 5.74.

Pct. 1 Commissioner William Hatfield commended the consulting firm on a job well done on the report.

"I think it was very detailed," Hatfield said of the study. "It was a very good report and money well spent."

Going forward, Hatfield said he would like for the county to reach out to the city of Marshall to help fund the juvenile services, which is about a $1 million operation.

"We need to reach out and try to get some help with the city of Marshall on that juvenile center," Hatfield said. "I don't think it's fair for the county to carry the million dollar (budget).

"We lost our agreement with them with the ambulance (services) and what's going on with that," he said, referring to the fact that the city now charges the county for ambulatory services in Uncertain when it used to be an in-kind exchange for juvenile service.

"I definitely think that the city of Marshall needs to help us out with that money that's being spent out there because part of that is being used by the residents of the city of Marshall," Hatfield said.



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