Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Camden Will Pay Extra for Jail Costs; the County Has to Dip into Its Reserve Fund So It Won't Show Any Red Ink on Its Bottom Line

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Camden Will Pay Extra for Jail Costs; the County Has to Dip into Its Reserve Fund So It Won't Show Any Red Ink on Its Bottom Line

Article excerpt

Byline: JILL HELTON

KINGSLAND - Camden County commissioners will dip into the county's savings to pay for an $834,000 budget overrun at the county jail.

County Finance Director Mike Fender said the jail was over budget because of inmate medical expenses and the cost of housing inmates outside of the county when the jail exceeded capacity.

Fender asked commissioners at their Tuesday night meeting to approve the budget adjustment so the county could report a balanced budget for the previous fiscal year.

The commission voted in May to continue funding the jail after learning that the Sheriff's Office had spent more than it was budgeted. At that time, the overrun was projected to be $718,000.

"I didn't go along with it last spring and I won't go along with it now," said Commissioner Steve Berry, who cast the only vote against the budget amendment.

Commissioners Preston Rhodes, David Rainer and Katherine Zell voted in favor. Commissioner Charlene Sears, an employee of the Sheriff's Office, abstained.

The Sheriff's Office maintains that the overrun was due to unavoidable expenses, which could be significantly decreased with the construction of a new jail.

"We've gone back and forth with the commissioners about building a new jail ... but they decided not to do it," said Capt. Wesley Walker, the Sheriff's Office budget spokesman.

Walker said the Sheriff's Office had asked for $400,000 in the last budget year to house inmates elsewhere but received only $100,000. Commissioners should not be surprised that the jail exceeded its budget, he said.

"They have known about this since the beginning of the last fiscal year," Walker said. "We told them that would not be enough."

The county's reserve account, earmarked for emergencies, will be used to cover the $834,000. Fender said the overrun had to be corrected in the final budget or it would result in a negative mark on the county's financial audit, something that could affect its ability to borrow money.

"I can't help that," Berry said. "I am not going to endorse a department that is spending $843,000 more than Camden County commissioners approved them to spend. …

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