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State officials are often accused of trying to balance the budget on the backs of county governments.
HB 463, which was approved earlier this year, may turn out to be the latest example of that.
When Gov. Steve Beshear signed the bill into law, he touted the legislation as an effort to be tough and smart on crime. The bill was also promoted as a way to save the state $422 million over the next 10 years.
That may end up being true on the state level, but it could also end up costing taxpayers in the long run.
Only a handful of county jails have been able to break even or operate with a surplus. We have been fortunate in Marion County to have one of those jails for more than seven years.
A big part of the reason that was possible was that the Marion County Detention Center housed a number of state prisoners, and the state reimbursed the county for doing so.
In many ways, our detention center has been a model for jails across the state. For better or worse, many counties also started to believe that they, too, could offset their jail costs by building bigger than they need and housing state prisoners.
Many counties lose hundreds of thousands of dollars each year just to maintain their jails, so it's understandable why they would seek additional state revenue.
According to Marion County Jailer Brady, in the past decade, more than 9,000 beds have been added to Kentucky's county jails in hopes of bringing in state prisoners.
That means more competition for those state dollars, and the competition has only grown as the state has released more prisoners. The effect is that local governments have less revenue, and that could have a ripple effect into other areas.
This year, the Marion County Fiscal Court has approved close to $120,000 in jail expenditures. The first was a one-time expense to install a new biometric system aimed at improving security at the jail. The other was a $60,000 transfer to make sure the jail could meet its payroll and other ongoing expenses.
Marion County Judge/Executive John G. Mattingly said the fiscal court has always included money in its budget for the jail, but this is the first year they've actually had to use it since he's been in office.
If the state continues its cost savings efforts through the early release of prisoners, then it looks like it's the counties that will be left holding the bag.