Mayor’s budget likely won’t include more money for Tulsa Jail, but that doesn’t mean deal with county is dead

County Commissioner Ron Peters said Tuesday that he expects there to be a deal in place in time for the additional revenue it would produce to be used by the county in fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1.

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Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, left, looks at a plaster sculpture of a handshake presented to him by Tulsa County commissioners soon after he took office in December. Commissioners said the sculpture is meant to signify the commissioners’ friendship and bonding with the new mayor. The county commissioners, left to right, are Ron Peters, Karen Keith and John Smaligo. KEVIN CANFIELD/The Frontier

It’s hell budgeting with money you’re not sure you’ll ever see, or with the specter of a looming bill you’re not sure you’ll ever have to pay.

That’s where the city of Tulsa and Tulsa County find themselves.

Mayor G.T. Bynum will present his first city budget Wednesday, and although administration officials aren’t sharing details, the proposed budget is not expected to include more money to cover the cost of holding municipal inmates in the Tulsa Jail.

Tulsa County, meanwhile, is not planning on getting more money from the city — at least not as reflected in its 2018 fiscal year budget documents. Sheriff Vic Regalado’s 2018 budget assumes his office will receive $700,000 from the city next fiscal year — the same amount the Sheriff’s Office budgeted for this fiscal year.

Does this mean Bynum’s stated goal of striking a new jail agreement with the county is dead? Not at all.

County Commissioner Ron Peters said Tuesday that he expects there to be a deal in place in time for the additional revenue it would produce to be used by the county in fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1.

“I think we will have it, which will be a plus,” Peters said.

Should that happen, the City Council would have to pass a budget amendment to pay for it. Or, in a best-case scenario for both parties, a deal is struck before the city and county approve their budgets in June.

The worst-case scenario is the one Tulsa County residents have watched play out for years: the city and county don’t reach an agreement, and the bickering continues.

Bynum has promised a new era of cooperation with the county, and so far he’s delivered. Landing a deal on the jail would add substance to what has until now been more a change in atmospherics than actions.

Doing so now, with the city looking at a general fund shortfall in the millions, would make the accomplishment all the more impressive.

One county estimate found that the city’s annual bill to hold inmates in the jail could reach $2 million if the definition of a municipal inmate were changed to include inmates with both municipal and state charges. In fiscal year 2016, the last complete year for which records are available, the city paid $809,163.

That’s a $1.2 million gap that would be difficult for the city to bridge. At the same time, it’s $1.2 million the Sheriff’s Office would love to have. The county Budget Board on Monday agreed to give the Sheriff’s Office $2.4 million to help fund operations at the Tulsa Jail in fiscal year 2018. Regalado had requested $3.4 million.

Bynum has promised a new era of cooperation with the county, and so far he’s delivered. Landing a deal on the jail would add substance to what has until now been more a change in atmospherics than actions.

It will be interesting to see how these independent-yet-loosely-linked budget processes work out. The city and county have been close to a deal before. But since June 2014, when the existing jail agreement expired, they’ve never been able to reconcile their differences over which inmates the city should pay for and how much the city should pay the county to hold them.

Those remain the topics of discussion today. Also lingering are suspicions that, even with all the hope and optimism surrounding city/county relationships these days, getting the parties to agree on anything with a dollar sign attached to it might just be too much to wish for.

Nothing captures that sentiment better than County Treasurer Dennis Semler’s comment Monday in response to a suggestion that the city of Tulsa wants to pay its fair share when it comes to reimbursing the county for services it provides.

“Has the city ever funded (its) fair share? Because I hear that a lot — fair share, fair share, but it never seems to equate to actual hard dollars,” Semler said

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