The Woodward News

Local News

January 9, 2013

Commissioners approve inmate change

Woodward, Okla. — The city will no longer be housing its own inmates.

Woodward City Commissioners approved an interlocal agreement with the county during their regular meeting Monday evening that will allow the city to place its inmates in the new county jail.

County commissioners had approved the same agreement earlier in the day.

Under the agreement, the county will not charge the city for housing the inmates.

City Manager Alan Riffel said there are 2 main reasons the county has agreed to offer the use of its jail for free.  

The first is that before the new county jail was built, the old facility was often plagued by overcrowding and the city stepped in and "took their prisoners time and time again," Riffel said.  So he said it is as if the county is "paying back the favor."

The second reason is that by not charging the city to house inmates, the county is helping to ensure that 9-1-1 services are available to county residents.  Because the money that is saved from not paying the county to house inmates as well as not having to staff and operate a city jail can be redirected to help offset revenue shortfalls for the E911 center, which covers both the city and county, Riffel said.

E911 Coordinator Shaun Barnett was in attendance at Monday night's meeting to explain the issue.

"You might not realize it, but 9-1-1 is funded through your landlines and wireless phones," Barnett said.

But now that the number of landlines are decreasing as more people switch to exclusively mobile phones, he said that revenue is decreasing, especially as "landlines have made up the bulk of our revenue."

He later told The News that in general 9-1-1 receives around 15 percent of the base rate for landline services, which averages to about $1.10 a month per customer in Woodward County.  However, for those with cellular phones, he said, "we only collect 50 cents a month per phone, so you can see right there that's quite a difference."

While the E911 center isn't broke yet, Barnett told commissioners that without doing something to address the reductions in revenue "in 2 years we could be operating in the negative."

He said right now the Woodward County E911 has a surplus, "but we're projecting in 2 years that will be gone.  And we want to keep a bit of surplus for operations and maintenance and equipment upgrades."

Barnett and Riffel said that the agreement is really beneficial for all parties.

"It not only benefits 911, but also the city by allowing it to utilize the new jail facility," Barnett said.

"As well as (benefits) the county, by them not having to increase their contribution to 911 operations," Riffel said, later noting, "If this option (for rehousing inmates) was not available to us then the city and county would have to find a way for both governments to contribute more to E911 anyway."

However, by housing city inmates in the county jail, Riffel said the city will be able to make a budget amendment to transfer the balance of the approximately $50,000 in annual appropriations for city jail operations into the E911 budget.

While only the contract for inmate housing was addressed Monday, the city manager said that the budget amendment to transfer the city jail appropriations will likely be included for approval at the next city commission meeting.

Prior to approving the inmate housing agreement, Commissioner Steve Bogdahn expressed concern about whether the city would be able to use its jail again should the deal with the county ever fall through.

Police Chief Harvey Rutherford assured him that "our jail will continue to be maintained," so that if needed it will be available for use again.

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