The reimbursement of expenses incurred by the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Office for the holding of state prisoners was the main topic of discussion at the Feb. 6 meeting of the county commission.

Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher asked about keeping state prisoners.

County Clerk Mark Hedrick said, “This is where we keep prisoners, and if they’re convicted, they become state prisoners and the state does reimburse us for them. You send for the reimbursement, and the way it is right now, it’s taking a long time to get it from the state due to funds.

“They only get ‘x’ amount of dollars every year to pay for state prisoners that are kept by all the counties and they’re way, way behind on payment to a lot of the counties. In the past when the money has come in, it’s been placed in the general fund, but the sheriff is requesting that the money be placed in the law enforcement fund instead. He’s expending the money right now out of his fund to keep these prisoners.”

According to Associate Commissioner Patrick Mullins, county reimbursement for the care of state prisoners is nothing new.

“This has been a hot topic since 2009 when I was first elected,” he said. “Mark Hedrick and I are on the Missouri Association of Counties and this continues to be one of their top priorities. The average housing rate is around $40 to $42 per day to house a prisoner. The reimbursement rate is around $20 to $21 and it will fluctuate. It’s a mess and it’s been a mess. I don’t see any fix in the future.”

Mullins explained that Missouri is the only state that reimburses the cost of housing state prisoners.

“County commissioners meeting from across the state were told last year that we were lucky that we get something and that we should continue pushing the issue, but not to be surprised in the years ahead if it goes away because we are the only state that pays it,” he said.

Hedrick noted that the reason why reimbursement for housing state prisoners was originally placed in general fund instead of the law enforcement fund was because that was the budget line where the money was being expended at that time.

“[Sheriff Dan Bullock] didn’t have a sales tax and so it all came from the general fund and so that’s why it was put back into the general fund at that point in time,” he said. “But now he has a sales tax and he’s expending the money and wanting it put back in the law.”

Asked by Associate Commissioner Gay Wilkinson how much the annual reimbursement totaled, Hedrick said, “It depends on when they pay it. Right now they’re $250,000 to $300,000 behind on what they owe us.”

According to County Auditor Louie Seiberlich, the county had just recently received a reimbursement payment from the state for May 2017.

“We haven’t received one for 2018 yet,” he said. “As of Oct. 31, the amount owed statewide was almost $8 million owed to counties.”

Hedrick said, “I know at one time Cape Girardeau County was behind about $800,000 that was owed them – not counting all the new stuff that was compounding on. The director of the Department of Corrections is attempting to get this done, but they are limited by how much the legislature gives them every year and they just do whatever they can do each quarter.

“They only pay per quarter because they’re only given the money per quarter. Let’s say they get $10 million. Well, that’s not going to pay everybody, so they just pay until they use the $10 million – and they do it on older dates first. That’s what they’re doing to try to correct it.”

The commissioners voted unanimously to place future reimbursements for the care of state prisoners into the law enforcement fund.

The next meeting of the St. Francois County Commission is 10 a.m. Feb. 13, on the third floor of the courthouse annex in Farmington. The meeting is open to the public.

By Kevin Jenkins | Daily Journal