The most recent meeting of the joint county and cities Public Safety Commision showed the group is moving closer to parity in 911 and jail funding.

This issue of funding for 911 and the county jail was first brought up late last year at a joint intergovernmental meeting. The meeting, attended by mayors of Van Buren County cities, as well as county representatives, heard presentations regarding parity in 911 and jail funding, specifically that parity had not been achieved - specifically that the county was bearing an unfair share of the jail fees, namely per-prisoner cost, and the city of Fairfield Bay was carrying an unfair share of 911 center operations.

The 911 center is located in Fairfield Bay.

As a result of those presentations, a Public Safety Commision was formed, co-chaired by Justices Mary Phillips and Brian Tatum, and regular meetings have been held. City mayors, namely Fairfield Bay Mayor Paul Wellenberger and Clinton Mayor Richard McCormac, participate in the committee, as do members of the 911 center, the sheriff’s department and area police departments. The ongoing discussion has been to determine what, exactly, constitutes a fair share of funding between cities and counties.

Its most recent meeting was Tuesday, June 5. Funding for 911 and jail fees were addressed separately.

Funding for the 911 center, at this meeting, centered on the issue if, in fact, the cities were expected to pay for 911 services. Wellenberger cited a finding by Fairfield Bay city attorney showing this was the case. Clinton Counsel Chad Brown disagreed with this finding. On top of this was McCormac’s expressed concern that being asked to fund 911 without a say in its operations was potentially unfair.

Wellenberger suggested that a sub-committee be formed with members of the affected cities and the county’s budget committees to come up with a fair share for inclusion in the respective 2019 budgets. This was agreed upon by the members.

County Judge Roger Hooper added that the committee’s review would give the new sheriff time to review numbers prior to the 2019 budget being finalized.

Van Buren County is currently under an interim sheriff, Randy Gurley, after Sheriff Scott Bradley’s retirement. Gurley, by law, is not able to run for reelection to the position, meaning the November election will be for a new sheriff for Van Buren County.

Jail fees, addressed as a second issue and ,early in the committee process the biggest point of debate, was closer to, apparently, being resolved.

As the fee discussion had evolved, cities, namely Fairfield Bay and Clinton, agreed to place a $20 jail fee on tickets written to go directly to the jail. (Clinton had to raise its fee, originally $10, to do this, voted upon at a city council meeting earlier this year.) This, based on current calculations, showed the inmate fee expense being met without any need for further payment by the cities, based upon number of inmate days.

(The cities of Shirley and Damascus were not separated out in jail fee funding due to their relatively low volume of inmates, and instead absorbed into the county, Clinton, Fairfield Bay calculations.)

The actual calculation as to city cost versus county cost, and number that shifts in the period of time between arrest and trial sentencing, had been a point of debate leading up to Tuesday’s meeting, including counts of number of citations written by various law enforcement agencies. This, apparently, was resolved at Tuesday’s meeting, showing that per-citation fees of $20 against the number of inmate days were - based on current projections - covered.

“It’s a wash,” committee member Justice Dell Holt said, after the committee reviewed the balance between per-ticket fee and inmate days.