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GF County jail losing $54,000 per month

The Grand Forks County Correctional Center is operating at a projected annual loss of about $650,000. That's in line with the county's best estimates at the beginning of the year. After three months, the facility shows a deficit of about $162,750...

The Grand Forks County Correctional Center is operating at a projected annual loss of about $650,000.

That's in line with the county's best estimates at the beginning of the year.

After three months, the facility shows a deficit of about $162,750, or an average of $54,250 per month.

Correctional center total revenue is about $69,750 below budget, or $23,500 per month. Spread over 12 months, that deficit amounts to $279,000.

Meantime, average monthly expenditures are running about $31,000 over budget, or about $372,000 for the year.

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"We're holding our own," County Commission Chairman Gary Malm said. "Those were our best estimates. We're trying to find other ways to cut costs and to increase income."

At one point early this year, the county estimated the annual deficit this year could be as much as $700,000 to $1 million.

The budget shortfall is attributed to two main factors: the new facility is housing fewer federal prisoners, at a lower federal reimbursement rate, than originally forecast; and the hiring of an additional 19 corrections officers, which were not in the 2007 budget, to comply with federal correctional center guidelines.

The 240-bed facility has housed an average of 166 prisoners a day through the first three months of the year.

The lion's share of the shortfall is in revenue from housing federal prisoners, which is running about $51,000 per month below budget, for an estimated annual deficit of about $612,000.

Through three months, the county is housing an average of 23.5 federal prisoners per day. The county receives $70 per day in reimbursement from the federal government.

The largest number of federal prisoners on any given day this year was 39, after the arrest of several illegal immigrants at a business in Towner County.

The county budgeted 55 federal prisoners per day, with a $110 per day reimbursement, based on figures supplied by former Correctional Center Administrator Gary Gardner, who was fired in November, in part because commissioners say he misled them on federal prisoner revenue.

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Gardner and the county still are in litigation over a financial settlement related to his firing.

The county commission is working to narrow that gap, by recruiting prisoners from across North Dakota, according to Deb Nelson, county finance and tax director.

The county has had just one prisoner transferred from the North Dakota Penitentiary, which pays $100 per day.

"We're still working with the state, to get some state inmates," Malm said.

Traill County Commissioners toured the Grand Forks facility this week.

Traill County plans to put a referendum on the November ballot to finance a $6.2 million expansion and renovation project at the aging Traill County Jail.

During a visit to Hillsboro, N.D., earlier this month, Commissioner Diane Knauf and States Attorney Peter Welte reminded Traill County that the Grand Forks facility was built as a regional correctional center and that it has an average of 40 to 50 open beds per day.

"Keep us in mind," Knauf said.

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Traill County Sheriff Mike Crocker, who supports the jail expansion proposal in Hillsboro, said sending prisoners to Grand Forks County would be too costly, citing housing and transportation costs. Grand Forks County charges $100 per day to house prisoners from other counties.

Welte said prisoner housing rates are negotiable.

Nelson said the jail is ahead of budget in several areas, including juvenile detention center income, work release and commissary revenue.

"We're really working on this," Nelson said. "So, I think it will pick up, and the bottom line will get better."

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