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Building next to courthouse could be available for new Pulaski County Jail
Building next to courthouse could be available for new Pulaski County Jail

The old Jim's Market across from the county courthouse could become a new county jail, Sheriff J.B. King says.
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (March 23, 2009) — Pulaski County Sheriff J.B. King asked the county commissioners Monday to consider purchasing a building directly across from the sheriff’s department as a new home for the county jail.

Known as “Jim’s Supermarket Complex,” the building is now mostly vacant but contains offices for a bail bondsman and fitness center.

“A better location for a new Pulaski County Jail could not be found,” King wrote in a letter to the commissioners. “As we all know, by Missouri statute the county jail must be located within the seat of government for the county. The only exception would be the regional jail statute where two or more counties build a joint jail at a location they select. Since every county that surrounds us except Maries County has passed a sales tax or bond issue and has already built a new jail, the regional concept would probably not work for us.”

King said Pulaski County spent $419,426 in 2008 to other jails — mostly the Miller County Jail, Phelps County Jail and Dixon City Jail — for housing Pulaski County’s overflow inmates. The Pulaski County Jail has space for only 30 inmates but the county typically has to find room for 60 to 65 inmates.

“Over the past eight years the taxpayers of Pulaski County have paid out $2,598,148 for inmate board to other agencies to house our inmates, and that is only part of the cost involved,” King wrote. “The round trip to the Miller County Jail, for example, is 74.8 miles of gasoline expense and deputy salary time. We usually make the trip at least four times each week. The bottom line here is that the Pulaski County taxpayers fund a lot of extra expense because we do not have our own full-capacity county jail.”

Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall wasn’t convinced.

Citing current Pulaski County jail budget figures, Ransdall said the annual cost for jail salaries was $149,156. With $30,000 added for social security and other benefit costs and $94,000 for meals, that corresponds to $273,000 per year or a per-day cost of $747.80 or $27.70 per inmate — just $7.30 less than the $35 per day fee that Pulaski County now pays other jails to house Pulaski inmates.

“That doesn’t leave much to retire a debt to pay for construction of a jail,” Ransdall said. “Even if somebody gave us a jail for free, we wouldn’t save much money … Even if we had a zero-percent interest loan, I don’t see how we can afford it. It doesn’t make enough money.”

Ransdall said Miller County recently sent out a letter stating that the county has 70 available beds.

“They’re asking for people to send inmates to their jail and take care of their costs,” Ransdall said.

Commissioner Bill Farnham said the vacant beds in Miller County isn’t typical.

“I’d say when the tourism picks up, their jail will pick up,” Farnham said.

Farnham said Ransdall, who works closely with U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton on matters related to Fort Leonard Wood, ought to contact Skelton to see if special funds could be allocated to Pulaski County similar to the impact aid funds that the Department of Defense provides to schools in military communities.

“What we’re talking about is, at the federal level, just peanuts. They’re talking trillions of dollars and we’re talking a few hundred thousand,” Farnham said. “I’m a big believer that if you don’t ask you don’t know. All they can do is say no … We’re not doing our job if we don’t try.”

Ransdall said an easier solution would be for the Missouri state legislature to increase the per-diem reimbursement that the state pays to counties for holding inmates on state charges.

“The best simplest answer would be for the Missouri legislature to increase the per diem to $30,” Ransdall said. “All it takes is one stroke of a pen.”

State law says counties are to be reimbursed for the cost to house inmates who are later convicted and sent to the state prison system. Missouri legislators decided years ago to pay $37.50 per day to counties for housing those inmates, but then tacked language onto the law specifying that the full amount is to be paid only “subject to appropriations.” The result is the state budget doesn’t have to bear the burden of an unknown and rapidly escalating cost, but counties are forced to do so instead. In recent years, Missouri has upped its reimbursement rate from $20 per day to $21.25. Efforts last year to significantly increase that amount were made State Sen. Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Spring, who lives in Dent County but whose district includes Pulaski County, but were unsuccessful when Sen. Gary Nodler, the Republican chairman of the State Senate budget committee, blocked most of the proposed increase.

King’s letter to the county commissioners noted that Fort Leonard Wood’s inmates currently have to be held in Fort Knox or Fort Leavenworth while they await trial on military charges. However, Ransdall said he was aware of only one Fort Leonard Wood soldier currently being held on federal charges — Spec. Jermaine Johnson, who is accused of killing Myria Silva, a fellow soldier’s wife — and said most people arrested by Fort Leonard Wood are restricted to quarters or otherwise punished until they can be processed out of the Army.

Holding federal civilian inmates may not be reasonable either, Ransdall said, noting that Pulaski County is the farthest eastern county along Interstate 44 in the Western District of Missouri and even if a new Pulaski County jail were built to federal standards to hold federal inmates, it wouldn’t make sound financial sense for federal jailers to drive past facilities in adjacent counties to come to Pulaski County.

Commissioner Ricky Zweerink said having a new jail may help, but questioned whether the county can afford it.

“This is a tough time right now,” Zweerink said.

“Yes, but look at the stimulus. They’re trying to hire people,” Farnham said. “Guys, if we can find ways to provide better services without raising taxes, I think we ought to try.”

Click here to read Sheriff King’s jail report

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