LIVINGSTON — The quarter-cent sales tax that Livingston Parish voters rededicated to build and maintain a new jail isn’t raising enough to cover those expenses, documents show.
The jail tax fund has a deficit of more than $4.2 million, according to an independent accountant’s report.
Parish Treasurer Stuart Sonnier expects that amount to continue to grow as costs of running the new jail increase.
The tax does pay for the bonds sold to build the new jail, but isn’t enough to pay for jail operations and prisoner expenses, he said.
The sales tax brings in about $3 million a year, records show.
The yearly cost of paying off the bonds that were sold to build the jail is about $1.8 million. The cost of its operation, not including Sheriff’s Office manpower to staff it, runs about $2.3 million, according to parish records.
The fact that the new jail has filled up, and the parish is having to pay to house its own prisoners outside the parish will add substantially to those costs, Sonnier said.
Sonnier estimates that by the end of this year, the deficit would be more than $4.5 million.
To fill the financial void, money is having to be pulled from the Parish Council’s general fund, he said.
That’s not something the council put in its budget for this year, said Councilman Thomas Watson, who heads the council’s Finance Committee.
He said he expects the impact to be larger next year than this year and the parish would have to find other places to cut spending in order to provide additional money to operate the jail.
Routing money to jail operations and prisoner costs is eating away at the general fund, Parish President Mike Grimmer said.
The council is making loans to the jail fund from the general fund, but parish officials said they don’t know when those loans will be repaid.
The bonds sold to build the jail aren’t scheduled to be paid off until 2021.
Parish records show that the parish government’s cost of operating the jail in 2001 was $466,035.
Last year, it was more than $2.2 million, plus almost $1.8 million in the bond payments that go toward paying off the new jail.
Those figures do not include the cost of Sheriff’s Office manpower to run the jail.
It took 40 people to operate the old jail, but it takes 75 to operate the new facility, Warden Jim Brown said.
He said he needs eight to 10 more deputies to have “proper staffing levels” for the 84,000-square-foot jail.
The council paid $18 million to build the new jail, known as the Livingston Parish Detention Center. It went into operation in 2009.
Faced with the high cost of having to house prisoners in out-of-parish jails, the council built the new jail after voters agreed to rededicate 25 percent of a 1-cent sales tax that had been previously passed to resurface roads.
The new jail is designed to house up to 673 prisoners, but only 617 of those beds are for normal operations and the rest are for medical needs, disciplinary lockdowns or other specific purposes, Brown said.
As of Friday afternoon, the Sheriff’s Office had 681 prisoners in the jail and 58 housed out of the parish, said Perry Rushing, chief of operations for the Sheriff’s Office.
Of the 681 prisoners in the Livingston Parish Detention Center, 178 were state Department of Corrections prisoners. The DOC pays the Sheriff’s Office to house those prisoners.
The money the Sheriff’s Office receives for housing state prisoners goes toward paying for the additional deputies needed to run the new, larger jail, Brown said.
The Sheriff’s Office receives $24.39 per day for each state prisoner it holds.
The cost to the council for housing Livingston Parish prisoners in the Richland Parish jail is $21.39 a day.