The Woodward News

January 9, 2013

Commissioners approve inmate change

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

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.



NEW PERSONNEL POLICIES TO GO INTO EFFECT SOON

In other action Monday, the city commissioners approved an updated set of personnel policies that will go into effect as of March 1.

Riffel said that in recent years various policy additions and updates had been made in a piecemeal fashion to the city's personnel policy manual, with the latest update being in Oct. 2008.  So the city manager recently determined that a "comprehensive update" was needed.

This updating was prompted by a decision to add a new social media policy to it's books with the growth of the medium as well as update the city's substance abuse and testing policies to reflect revisions in state and federal laws over the past year.

The new social media policy directs employees when posting online to be respectful, be honest and accurate when posting information or news, and not post confidential or proprietary information.  The policy also directs employees to express only their personal opinions and not represent themselves as spokespersons for the city when participating in social media during off-duty hours.

Riffel didn't discuss specific changes to the substance abuse and testing policy.  But he noted that the new drug policy was reviewed by the city's attorney, the attorneys for the city's insurers and even a third-party legal expert to make sure that it met statutory requirements.

The city manager also didn't go through the various changes to the overall personnel manual which is around 50-pages long including an index.  However, he did give an example of the type of revisions that were made.

"We had issues regarding what was considered immediate family when we grant funeral leave," Riffel said.  "Previously we didn't include stepson, stepdaughter, or mother-in-law or father-in-law.  In cases involving those individuals it was up to the discretion of the city manager whether to allow funeral leave.  We felt that policy needed to be more objective and uniform."

Those relatives and other in-laws are now included along with spouses, parents, guardians, grandparents, grandchildren, children, siblings, aunts and uncles, which are all listed as "immediate family" for whose funerals an employee may be granted up to 3-days paid bereavement leave.