Benton County Quorum Court gives OK to jail fees increase
BENTONVILLE — Housing prisoners at the Benton County Jail will cost municipalities more starting in this new year.
Benton County’s Quorum Court closed the books on 2018 in quick fashion Dec. 20. Among the six items of new and old business on the agenda was the third and final reading of an ordinance to increase jail fees from $50 to $60 per day. The vote was unanimous.
The Quorum Court wrapped up business in Circuit Judge Robin Green’s courtroom in just over 30 minutes.
County officials mulled a $5 increase in jail fees, but Justice of the Peace Brent Meyers suggested raising the fee another $5 at the Committee of the Whole meeting Oct. 11. The Quorum Court held the ordinance’s first reading in October and followed with a second in November.
Fifteen county cities and the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport bring people to the jail at 1300 S.W. 14th St. in Bentonville, according to information provided by Meyers.
Brenda Guenther, county comptroller, said the fee charged to cities has lagged behind costs. The $10 increase will inch the county closer to the breakeven point.
The fee was $40 in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The Quorum Court increased the fee to $45 in 2016 and to $50 in 2017, Guenther said.
The cost of housing an inmate for one day was estimated at $46 in 2013. That increased to about $53 in 2016. After the county added jail space, the cost increased to $60 in 2017, Guenther said. The national average to house a prisoner is between $72 and $75 a day, Jail Capt. Jeremy Guyll said.
Salaries make up 64 percent of jail costs, according to information from Guenther. Smaller costs include utilities, food and clothing, and medical expenses.
The county receives $30 per day from the Arkansas Department of Correction for state prisoners, and $56 per day for federal prisoners.
There were 605 inmates in the jail on Dec. 20 — 482 local, 100 state and 23 federal.
The county has collected $166,850 in jail fees through November, Guenther said Thursday. The county collected $174,000 in 2017, and should pull in around $208,000 next year with the fee increase.
Thursday night’s meeting was the final one for J.D. Hayes, the justice of the peace for District 3; Mike Jeffcoat, the justice of the peace for District 5; and Bob Bland, the justice of the Peace in District 11. Hayes and Jeffcoat were appointed to their positions and weren’t eligible to run for the seats, and Bland didn’t seek re-election in November.
County Judge Barry Moehring presented each of the three with a gift, and rounds of applause followed for their service.
“I hope the three of you won’t be strangers and continue to give us your input,” Moehring said. “Let us know what we are doing right, and what we are doing wrong.”
Justice of the Peace Michelle Chiocco said she was pleased with the work the Quorum Court did in 2018. Among the achievements she cited was an agreement for ambulance service on the west side of the county and settling on a proposed courthouse plan.
The county reached a three-year agreement to provide ambulance service to the rural areas on the west side of the county in October.
The plan is a collaboration between the county, Gentry, Decatur and Northwest Health Emergency Medical Services. The agreement will place three Advanced Life Support ambulances on the west side of the county and save county residents more than $195,000, Moehring previously said.
The contract that began Jan. 1 will cover EMS services for the fire districts in Sulphur Springs, Gravette, Maysville, Gentry and Gallatin, and Gentry and Decatur.
A special election for a one-eighth-cent sales tax increase for a proposed $30 million courts building will be held March 12. The sales tax increase would be for 54 months if approved by voters. The county has adopted a building design and site on Second Street in downtown Bentonville.
“It’s been a productive year,” Chiocco said. “We now have some focus on the courthouse. We’ve talked about it for years. All in all it was a good year for the Quorum Court. I hope the public has been happy with it.”