(2012 Courier file photo by Ken Ritchie)
(2012 Courier file photo by Ken Ritchie)
Jefferson County Jail inmates are eating up Sheriff John Wallace's budget.

The sheriff reported during Tuesday's County Council meeting that the increase in inmates has sent meal, medical and institutional expenses through the roof, putting a substantial strain on the sheriff's general fund.

To finish out the remainder of the fiscal year, Wallace asked the council for additional $60,000 in appropriations for meals and another $20,000 for medical and institutional expenses.

The board voted to table approving the appropriations in order to hunt for a different funding source. Using the sheriff's general fund would leave the account with a negative balance for the year, the board said.

"You can't spend it if you don't have it," said councilmember Laura Boldery, who proposed tabling the issue. 

Wallace estimated that the jail population has doubled since he took office in 2010. This year, he said the county budgeted for an average of 100 inmates, whereas actual monthly averages are around 120 to 130 or even higher. 

He added that the trouble comes even after the jail saved an estimated $80,000 this year by switching its cafeteria services to Louisville company Canteen. 

Overcrowding at the jail has been an ongoing issue for several years. This year, the county renovated the third floor of the facility to house more inmates and to save money by not temporarily sending inmates to jails outside the county.

But that was most likely the last renovation for the building, and the steady numbers of 120 and 130 inmates is still past the increased capacity limit that came with the remodeling. 

Councilman Larry Wynn said while the higher jail population and arrests are signs of strong law enforcement, "something's got to change."

Wynn said he would like county law enforcement officials to consider issuing surety bonds for inmates being jailed for misdemeanors or nonviolent charges. With a surety bond, inmates are released until their next court date after paying 10 percent of the total bond to a bondsperson.

Councilman Joe Craig agreed, adding that the county continues to pay off a bond that was issued when the new jail was built in 2006.

"In a couple of years, (the jail) will be paid off, and we're already busting at the seams," he said. 

Also at the meeting, the county agreed to purchase a 5-acre plot near the county highway garage as part of a property expansion.

The land acquisition and legal fees will cost about $25,000. The council voted to spend another $25,000 for property improvements that the county agreed to make for nearby Meadow Lane residents.

The improvements include adding landscaping trees, fencing and gravel for the lot.

Commissioner Tom Pietrykowski said the amount will not be enough to fill the entire lot, but added they wanted to start the project this year.

In other business:

• Wallace reported that the video visitation system at the jail is installed and will be ready to launch within the next two weeks. Visitors will be able to use the system at the jail for free or through a remote Internet access for a fee.

 Securus Technologies, which currently handles the phone services for the jail, installed the new system. The program will be a revenue source for the county once Securus recovers its original investments for the equipment.

• The sheriff reported that the Jefferson County United Way contributed $4,000 to the department's K-9 fund. The donation puts the department at its goal for a police dog. Wallace said the next step is to purchase a K-9 and begin a training program with a deputy.