Inmate medical care a big expense

ESCANABA – Budget work has begun in Delta County for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Members of the Delta County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday with department heads from the Delta County Sheriff’s Department and Friend of the Court (FOC) to discuss their budgetary needs for the coming fiscal year.

The projected sheriff’s department corrections budget for 2014-15 is $1.8 million.

“Basically the salaries are identical (to last year) because the last couple of years there hasn’t been any increases,” said Sheriff Gary Ballweg, highlighting one of the line items.

The corrections relief line item of $60,000 in the budget reflects part-time staff in the jail, he added.

One area that continues to increase in the corrections budget are medical expenses, noted Ballweg, with a projected $240,000 budgeted for 2014-15.

“It’s been going up every year,” he said. “It’s not so much that our contract with our provider is going up every year, but the items that are not covered.”

These include such things as hospitalization of inmates which creates greater medical expenses. One way the jail has tried to defray such costs is by using a mobile X-ray device instead of bringing inmates to the hospital.

Still many inmates suffer from various medical conditions.

“The people coming into the jail, a lot of them have medical issues, a lot of drug problems,” he said. “Their bodies are worn down. There’s just a lot of issues that our inmates have over there.”

The medical line item also covers having a mental health professional at the facility for eight hours a week.

Ballweg noted prior to contracting for medical services, the jail was shelling out approximately $100,000 in prescription medications alone and said the need for medications at the facility continues.

“The nurse is very busy over there,” said Ballweg. “We don’t have any hard drugs in the facility anymore, but there’s still about 60 percent of the inmates at any given time who still are on medications.”

Additional jail expenses in the budget include a board of prisoners line item budgeted at $180,000 for providing food to inmates. Ballweg said this year, the jail has only spent about 45 percent of its food budget.

“It looks like if we stay where we are this year we’re probably going to be spending hopefully $10,000 or $12,000 under what we’re budgeting here, so I don’t see that changing much as far as that goes,” he said.

The jail also has a jail repair line item of $30,000 projected for next year and $2,000 has been set aside for training purposes.

“The state set up a new system where the inmates have to pay a $12 booking fee every time they come to the jail,” said Ballweg. “We’re able to collect that for the most part. Of that $12, we get $10 that stays here and the other $2 goes to the state for training.”

In addition to the sheriff’s department corrections budget, the department’s administration budget for 2014-15 is $423,000.

One major change here reflects a higher amount – $69,800 – in the salary line item for Undersheriff Phil Griebel, as he has a new retirement package with his new position built into the line item.

In addition, $3,000 is budgeted for extradition travel expenses.

“That would be if we have to go pick up inmates in other states and so forth,” said Ballweg. “We’ve been fortunate. The last few times we’ve been able to share expenses with the state police and things like that.”

He noted this area of the budget is hard to predict because some years the money isn’t spent and is rolled over into the general fund. Other years they have to find areas within their budget to take money from due to increased expenses.

Additional areas Ballweg highlighted in the sheriff’s administration budget were a $7,000 amount for state institution travel used for mental transports.

The sheriff’s marine division also has a budget projected of $28,000 for 2014-15.

“About three-quarters of this is refunded by the State of Michigan, although we did find out this year it’s going to be less,” Ballweg commented.

J.P. Rudell from the friend of the court department also brought up a request to change one line item of his department’s budget. The projected FOC budget for 2014-15 is $601,000.

Rudell requested an extra $1,500 to $3,000 be added to the travel expenses line item, currently budgeted at $3,000.

“That’s mainly because last year we participated in the Friend of the Court Association meeting,” he said. “Those are usually held downstate. They have meetings twice a year and it was very informative and helpful for our office. In addition we participate and make the state system better too.”

Rudell noted of the extra $1,500, approximately $990 would be paid through the co-operative reimbursement program, so the actual cost to the county would be about $510.

The next budget workshop meeting is scheduled for April 29 at 3:30 p.m. in Room 222 of the Delta County Courthouse.