MANSFIELD — Richland County Commissioners say they have not made a formal proposal to change the annual bill for housing city prisoners in the county jail — even though an actuarial review of jail costs has been completed and shows a substantial increase.
Chairman Ed Olson said Thursday that a report was prepared and distributed, but there has been no discussion between the county and city about the findings or their ramifications.
“Other than distributing the report in May, we have not had direct conversation because we wanted to give the city time to absorb the report,” Olson said. “The county has made no formal request on the dollar amount.”
Law Director Ron Spon agreed there have been no formal talks between the city and county about the jail contract. However, he said he has reviewed “every iota” of the agreement and there is a clear understanding the third party cost calculations would be final and binding on all parties.
“When a report says it’s going to cost an extra $1 million, we take that seriously because the city does not have that $1 million to meet that obligation,” Spon said. “I’m very grateful to the commissioners that we did not receive a demand letter to pay the additional $1 million.”
Spon said the his office received a copy of the Maximus report “two or three” weeks ago. If the report had come a month later, he said, the city probably would have missed the legal deadline to put the income tax hike on the ballot.
On Tuesday, Mansfield City Council voted to place a quarter percent income tax before voters in November to provide essential public services including but not limited to — streets, the jail and police and fire protection. City officials cited a $1 million increase in jail costs as one of the reasons for the ballot issue. The state auditor’s office provided the figure after reviewing the cost analysis for the city’s fiscal recovery commission.
According to Olson, the 20-year jail contract between Mansfield and Richland County requires an independent third party, agreed to by the city, to review jail operations every five years and determine the real cost per day for the 80-bed basis in the contract. The city and county agreed on Maximus, a financial consulting firm in Canton, to conduct the review because both have used the company for indirect cost recovery services.
Olson indicated the $2.4 million figure produced by Maximus is not necessarily what the city will pay.
“Nothing in that report has been given to the city as a bill due and payable,” he said. “If there’s a question on where we got the dollar figures, they can go to the actuary. If anyone wants to challenge the numbers in the report, they can go to Maximus.”
Commissioner Tim Wert said the county did not deliberately try to raise the cost of the jail contract. Olson said neither side should be making a decision until it can review the numbers.
Olson pointed out the county increased the size of the jail during the design phase at Mansfield’s request because the city no longer wanted to operate its own jail. He said the jail contract includes a review every five years because the operating costs were estimated before the building was built.
“The problem is not the cost of building the jail but the cost of operating the jail,” Olson said.
He said about $400,000 of the city’s annual jail bill is its share of paying off jail construction bonds.
On Tuesday, council also authorized Spon to work with the county to solve the jail cost problem. He said Mansfield and Richland County are both trying to balance their budgets and he does not consider the talks to be adversarial.
“We are one community, and I have no doubt at all that the commissioners and city will come to an agreement that we can live with,” Spon said.
News Journal correspondent