Pointe Coupee sheriff at odds with Police Jury over jail funding _lowres

Advocate file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Pointe Coupee Sheriff Bud Torres .

Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff Bud Torres is threatening legal action against the Police Jury if the parish doesn’t fulfill its obligation to fund the operation of the parish jail.

The sheriff said he needs to free up the more than $1 million he’s been forced to annually take from his budget to run the jail so he can use those funds to beef up patrols to better serve the community as his office sees an increase in calls and juvenile-related crimes.

“Before I go to the people for a tax, I should be spending my money appropriately,” Torres said Thursday.

“My job is public safety and law enforcement. Their job, according to the state’s constitution, is to pay for the jail. That jail belongs to them,” he said.

But an attorney for the Police Jury said part of the costs of operating the jail stems from Torres’ decision to house inmates from the Louisiana Department of Corrections under a contract with the state — and the parish is not responsible for those costs.

The Police Jury’s annual struggles to fund operation of the jail are no secret, with officials saying in the past the most viable solution being increasing property taxes, which is highly unpopular with a majority of the jurors.

In a letter dated Sept. 30, attorneys representing the sheriff say the Sheriff’s Office spends more than $2.2 million from his budget to operate the jail — $1.2 million of which is offset by money Torres generates by housing DOC inmates.

The total costs of running the jail is roughly $3 million, Torres said.

Parish Treasurer Becky Mayeux said the Police Jury allots about $650,000 annually for the parish jail — $440,000 of which is taken from the parish’s general fund, with an additional $210,000 generated through a dedicated sales tax.

The Police Jury’s attorney, Dannie Garrett, said Thursday the growing friction between the Sheriff’s Office and the parish regarding funding of the jail is not something that’s unique to Pointe Coupee.

“This is widespread through sheriff’s offices and parish governments across the state,” he said. “There’s a general obligation for the parish to provide a jail, but the parish is responsible only for that small number of inmates that have been charged and are being held because they cannot post bail or aren’t allowed to.”

Garrett added, “The parish is not responsible for people who have already been convicted of crimes and are being held through the Louisiana Department of Corrections.”

Torres had his attorneys fire off the letter threatening to sue the Police Jury after the parish demanded he continue making $3,000 monthly payments to reimburse the more than $300,000 in additional money the jury spent to help complete the construction of the jail’s Work Release Building.

A majority of the building’s construction was paid for through a $500,000 allocation Torres said he lobbied from the state Legislature.

“I wanted to build the additional facility so we could house DOC inmates to help offset some of the costs to run the jail,” Torres said.

DOC pays local prisons $24 a day, per prisoner, to house its inmates.

The sheriff said he verbally agreed to make the monthly payments to the Police Jury but stopped in July after the parish built a new civil office for his department.

That move saved the parish about $3,400 in monthly rental fees, he said.

Because the parish wouldn’t let him off the hook for the remaining $175,000 it says the Sheriff’s Office still owes the jury for the Work Release Building, Torres retaliated with the demand letter from his attorneys.

In the letter, Torres’ attorneys threaten to take legal action if the Police Jury won’t fully fund the jail like it’s required to by state law.

However, the sheriff’s attorneys wrote Torres would keep the courts out of the dispute if the parish agreed to pay his office $250,000 annually for the next four years to reimburse him for the more than $1 million in funds he used to fund the jail from the extra revenue he generated by housing DOC inmates.

The Police Jury last week tabled a discussion on the item at its regular meeting and, instead, is expected to discuss the matter with the sheriff at its next Finance Committee meeting Monday.

“I know we’re going to work it out,” Jury President Melanie Bueche said Thursday. “I don’t want any controversy with the sheriff.”

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.