JONESBORO — Bay Mayor Darrel Kirby says the town stopped paying the city’s jail fees to the county because he thought the fees were unfair.
“I told our town city clerk to hold off on paying,” he said.
Kirby said when COVID-19 hit, the jail simply stopped accepting inmates and he felt it was unfair to pay $1,000 a month.
Because of a lawsuit between Mississippi County and the town of Blytheville in 2018 when the two entities were disputing whose financial responsibility inmates were, Craighead County officials and town mayors decided to be proactive and establish set rates, said Craighead County Sheriff Marty Boyd.
That consisted of each town establishing signed contracts setting yearly rates based on a three-year average of inmates that cities sent to the jail.
“Each one of them has a different rate,” Boyd said.
Boyd said Bay currently owes an estimated $21,000.
Bay’s contract was signed in November 2018 and has the town locked in at a yearly rate of $12,000, with a 3 percent annual increase.
Boyd said when contracts were signed, towns had the option to pay monthly, quarterly or annually.
According to Bay’s contract, the town opted to pay $1,000 monthly payments.
Records from Treasurer Terry McNatt’s office reflect Bay has missed a total of 17 months in payments in both 2019 and 2020.
Kirby said the town will pay off the debt, but it may take some time.
“I will pay them off and renegotiate the contract,” he said, noting there is an option for cities to opt-out if they are unhappy with the agreement.
Kirby said the county is still wanting to charge them for when COVID-19 hit.
“We were only able to cite them and release them,” he said.
Boyd said the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected the number of inmates the jail can hold.
“COVID-19 has affected misdemeanor arrests,” he said. “We are having to quarantine anyone who comes into the jail, do the testing and make sure they are not showing any symptoms.”
Boyd said the jail is not designed for that type of environment.
“Before COVID-19 we were housing 380 inmates; now we can only house about 240,” he said. “We have had to look at other alternatives like house arrests and ankle monitors.”
Some cities still have not signed a contract, Boyd said, noting Cash is one of them.
Neither Egypt nor Black Oak has a contract because neither of the towns has a police department, Boyd said. Towns like Cash, which has a part-time officer and have not signed contracts, are responsible for the daily per diem rate of $45.
“That rate has not changed in 15 years,” Boyd said, noting the contracts are up as of Dec. 31, 2022.
Kirby said despite disagreeing with the charges, he signed a contract and he intends to honor it.
“I talked to the judge and we are all going to sit down and discuss another contract,” he said. “I explained to the judge we just had our tornado siren burn up.”
Kirby said the cost of replacing the siren cost Bay $14,000. He said the town also had to replace a generator.
Boyd said the contracts have benefited the sheriff’s department budget.
“In my opinion, it is better than it has ever been,” he said, noting he understands the issue. “This is a major burden on any city, and it will always be that way.”
However, Boyd said there was much discussion before town mayors opted to sign the agreements.
“When we established the contracts, all the mayors agreed and those numbers were discussed and agreed upon based on the past three years’ numbers,” he said.
Some area mayors are not unhappy with the agreement.
Mayor Danny Shaw said it was his understanding the contracts came about because there were several cities not doing their part.
“We had to make it fair for everyone,” Shaw said, noting Bono was never behind in its jail fee payments. “I think it is a lot better to do an average.”
Brookland Mayor Kenneth Jones said he felt it was the best option for Brookland.
“The lawsuit in Mississippi County is under a decision by the court, but also undergoing an appeal process,” Jones said, noting if the current ruling is overturned, towns would be paying excessive fees if they were not locked into the current contracts. “The contract was to make sure we know what we are paying. I am not unhappy with the agreement and feel this is the best way we could go.”
Still, some local authorities agree the county should consider an adjustment since they could not transport prisoners to the jail.
Bono Police Chief Michael Parrish said because of the pandemic, Bono could not send anyone to the Craighead County Detention Center.
“There were several times the jail was just not accepting inmates,” Parrish said.
Craighead County Judge Marvin Day said he has spoken with Kirby and knows the town will get caught up.
“We are working with Bay, they said they are going to catch up, and we trust them,” he said.