Home extension week

The board of Woodward County Commissioners met with several Woodward County Oklahoma Home & Community Education club members Monday morning at the courthouse during the commissioners regular weekly meeting. Commissioners signed a proclamation for declaring May 5 through 11 as OHCE Week. (Photo by Dawnita Fogleman)

Woodward County Commissioners took up a number of topics at their meeting Monday, including the contract for juvenile detention services, Oklahoma Home & Community Education (OHCE) Week and funding for the county jail.

Commissioners heard a proposal from Eastern Oklahoma Youth Services (EOYS) Assistant Director Linda Shaw for juvenile detention services contract at Northwest Oklahoma Regional Juvenile Detention Center. She let

“We actually make less money than we made in 2004, due to all the state budget cuts,” said Shaw. “That’s the problem.”

District 3 Commissioner Vernie Matt asked Shaw if they are making less money, how do they operate and why they would want they would want it again.

“We just feel like it's ours. We've had it since the day the doors open. We have long term employees that we're dedicated to,” said Shaw. “None of this money leaves Woodward county because honestly, we can't afford it.”

Shaw said they had talked to the state multiple times about covering 10 beds instead of eight, but the state won't budge.

“They say that it's not in the state detention plan and they’re right, it’s not,” Shaw said. “But there are some other centers that are operating, that are their beds aren’t in the state plan and they're being paid for them. So you know, the best case scenario would be the state pay for 10 beds and then county rates would drop.

“But until OJA (Oklahoma Juvenile Affairs) agrees to do that, then we're just, our hands are tied.”

District 1 Commissioner Troy White asked Shaw if the rates would stay the same.

“Honestly, we want to be fair,” Shaw answered. “If things stay the same, the way they are right now, rates would have to increase and I don't want to lie to you and act like we're not going to do that. Because if things stay the way they've been, that would be our only option. So I just wish to be fair about it not mislead you.”

Matt asked if EOYS has any counselors at the detention center. Shaw said they have a program coordinator that does crisis counseling but they normally have Western Plains Youth & Family Services, Inc (WPYFS) come out and do some counseling.

WPYFS Executive Director Kevin Evans also presented a proposal. He began by pointing out the Community At Risk Services (CARS) money that WPYFS would be putting into the facility making it more of a mental health facility versus just detention. 

“Just because we've been doing something for 40 years, doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it,” said Evans. “Juvenile crime is, is decreasing yearly, dramatically. The acuity of the children we serve is increasing dramatically. And that's the children we’d like to reach.”

Evans said he’d like to see an hour of individual, an hour of group and an hour of life skills to help the children. He mentioned there is a program that could help pay for including parenting skills as well. His proposal included pictures of the center WPYFS runs in Elk City, showing some of the things they have done there.

“There’d be some renovation that would have to happen,” Evans informed commissioners. 

Evans backed up Shaw’s assertion that detention rates have not changed since 2004, saying it is an ugly fact.

“I see the direction this being repurposed for, redirect these funds, for something else,” Evans stressed. “Like I said, those are our kids and that’s how we feel about it.”

Matt asked Evans how many counselors are at WPYFS. Evans answered there are 10 but stated there are not enough licensed therapists in western Oklahoma.

“Some of these services can be provided by my bachelor's level people but most of these are licensed people,” said Evans. “A third to half the kids that are in juvenile detention end up in adult prison, we've got an opportunity to impact them now… That's what this is about.”

Evans went on to say it is not going to be perfect. Juvenile detention is a tough business and bad things happen, but they are going to do everything in their power to make that not happen.

Matt asked Evans if the staff would still have a job. Evans replied that it is their intention.

“They are valuable staff,” Evans said. “We welcome them into our family.”

EOYS proposal included a daily cost of roughly $75, while WPYFS was $58 per head per day. After reviewing both proposals, commissioners approved and signed the contract with WPYFS.

Commissioners approved prisoner public works project contracts between Oklahoma Department of Corrections and both District 3 and the Woodward Fair Barns.

Financing with Bank of Western Oklahoma for a 2015 Chevrolet Silverado crew cab pickup for District 2 was approved and signed from a sealed bid B-19-10 from Irwin Auto Company.

Commissioners approved resolutions for determining maximum monthly highway expenditures for May. The total received was $1,740,555.99 with $357,495.35 available for county use making $119,165.19 available for each district.

Commissioners approved directing the county treasurer to reimburse county election board personal services, part time help, travel or maintenance and operation and transfer of appropriations within the treasurer’s general fund from travel to maintenance and operation.

The board signed a proclamation for declaring May 5 through 11 as OHCE Week, meeting with several Woodward County OHCE club members and standing for pictures.

Two interlocal governmental agreements between the board and the City of Woodward were approved.

One is to facilitate expediting work assignments of juveniles in community service sentencing program and the other to cooperate in a street improvement program.

Commissioners discussed possible additional funds for the Woodward County Sheriff for the remainder of this fiscal year. 

“The jail is low on funding,” Sheriff Kevin Mitchell said. “ The biggest problem is sales tax that we operate off of is not bringing in enough money to cover payroll and maintenance and operation at the same time.”

Mitchell said this predicament has been a problem for about three years now and last year he had to ask the board to help cover costs.

“But with that being said, I understand that the counties are also budget crisis. So, I'm not here to try to soak up every dollar the county has extra,” Mitchell said. “Come budget time, the only fix I can see is to move some of the employees off that payrolls so they’re not soaking up sales tax dollars.”

Mitchell told the board he would take out of the Inmate Reimbursement Fund cash account to get through the end of the year, but that account will replenish real slow. District Attorney Christopher M. Boring agreed that this cash account would be very slow to replenish.

Mitchell and Boring also discussed legislation with the board, saying it is possible court costs and fees for convicted persons could be reduced, further lowering or erasing completely the funds going to the Inmate Reimbursement Fund and other courthouse accounts.

“That legislation will affect not only my office,” said Mitchell. “That's where our courthouse security money comes from.”

Mitchell said the payroll for the jail is about $74,000 a month but they’ve only been getting between $50,000 and $70,000 in sales tax dollars. He stressed that this leaves no money for groceries and light bill. The cash fund is generally used for building maintenance and medical costs for prisoners.

Boring said it starts concerning him when they start having issues with the jail. In pinching, he doesn’t want to see them reducing staff and things that may help prevent lawsuits. He reminded the board that come budget time, a cut in financial support to the county jail would be a liability that could likely cost more in the long run. 

White thanked Mitchell for his financial diligence.

“I think the board will join me in thanking the sheriff for his leadership in this financial crisis,” White said. “Not easy for the sheriff and it’s certainly not easy for us. I know the sheriff doesn't spend any extra money wastefully in the jail at all.

“The finances just, they are what they are under the current sales tax rate, that the jail is funded by. I think this board has funded that jail, at least half of the expenses of the past few years with county general funds because of sales tax barely covers the payroll.”