VAN BUREN, Ark. (AP) — A court in northwestern Arkansas has approved imposing a higher fee on cities for housing their inmates even though county officials cannot justify the increase.
The Crawford County Quorum Court voted Monday to charge municipalities a flat fee of $40 a day per inmate, instead of the former $10 a meal charge for inmates in the county jail, the AP reports. The meal-based fee, established about 20 years ago, essentially worked out to $30 a day.
Transitioning to the flat fee simplifies monthly billing for the county sheriff’s office, said Sheriff Ron Brown. He said that calculating meal charges in bills for various cities is complicated and absorbs much of a supervisor’s time.
But Brown, court members, and Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman all agreed that the county cannot justify whether the new fee fairly charges cities for the county’s cost of housing their inmates.
According to the court, the idea is to institute a flat fee to gauge how much revenue it generates and how it affects municipalities. Then, the county can adjust the fee to charge cities fairly.
Brown said he’s uncertain what the fee revenue would go toward. He told the court that the revenue could cover jail expenses or issues such as depreciation on the building and the jail’s small vehicle fleet.
Brown’s office has faced financial strain after an Arkansas Supreme Court decision in February, he said. The ruling made it so that cities were no longer responsible for all of their misdemeanor inmate expenses until the inmates were released. The court ruled that cities with misdemeanor inmates in the county jail had to pay their expenses until they’re sentenced, and then the county takes over paying the expenses.