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

The city’s cost to hold municipal inmates in the Tulsa Jail would nearly double to $1.47 million a year for the next two fiscal years, with the annual cost thereafter to be determined by an independent financial administrator, according to a draft letter of intent between the parties obtained by The Frontier.

Mayor G.T. Bynum, who took office Dec. 5, made securing a jail deal with Tulsa County a major campaign plank in his race against former Mayor Dewey Bartlett. The city has been without a jail agreement since June 2014.

In fiscal year 2016, the last complete year for which records are available, the city paid the county $809,163 to hold its inmates in the jail. The city has budgeted $685,000 to house municipal inmates in the jail in fiscal year 2018.

The draft letter of intent reflects a new willingness by the city to pay costs associated with holding municipal inmates in the jail facing state or federal charges.

The city currently pays only for inmates held in the jail on municipal charges, and pays no booking fees. Under the proposed 10-year agreement, the city would pay a $143.20 booking fee for each municipal inmate facing a state or federal charge.

The draft letter of intent distinguishes the two classifications of inmates as “municipal inmates” and “municipal inmates with additional charges.”

The $1.47 million flat rate would take effect July 1 and expire June 30, 2019. It is based on the city’s paying the county $69 per inmate per day to hold an average of 30 municipal inmates a day. It also assumes the city will pay 5,000 booking fees a year for municipal inmates with additional charges.

Starting in fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1, 2019, the financial administrator would be responsible for determining the average daily rate to hold a municipal inmate.

The financial administrator would present that rate to the Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority no later than Jan. 31, 2019 — and every subsequent January — and that figure would be multiplied by the annual average inmate count for the previous two fiscal years to come up with a flat rate the city would pay the following fiscal year. Currently, the city is billed month to month.

The January deadline for coming up with the average daily rate is designed to give the city and county time to incorporate the new expense and revenue figures into their upcoming fiscal year budgets.

Above is a list of what the city of Tulsa has paid Tulsa County to hold inmates in the Tulsa Jail since 2009.
The city of Tulsa began paying a direct fee to hold municipal inmates in the Tulsa Jail in 2009. The rate has changed several times since the fee was first applied in 2009. Graphic by Kassie McClung

Throughout the life of the agreement, the financial administrator would also determine what annual adjustments should be made to average annual daily inmate counts and booking fees.

The financial administrator would be hired by and report to the Criminal Justice Authority. Any candidate for the job would have to be a certified public accountant and be approved by a two-thirds majority of the seven-member authority.

“The chief goal of the Financial Administrator is to provide independent oversight and analysis of jail expenditures data for the Authority, and ultimately use this to determine real costs for the services provided by the Authority,” the draft letter of intent states.

The letter lists 13 costs the financial administrator should consider in determining that average daily rate. They included, but are not limited to, the booking fee, employee benefits, medical services, supplies and equipment maintenance, and transportation and utility services.

The financial administrator would also take into account the shared use of city and county property. The county uses the Police Department’s court holdings area, and the city uses the county’s bond office.

In a telephone interview Tuesday morning, County Commissioner Ron Peters said he could not comment on the draft letter of intent without seeing it. When informed of what the document says, Peters stressed that he did not intend to negotiate in the media, but added: “All the things mentioned would have to be part of the negotiation process on this deal.”

Bynum said the city continues to have productive meetings with the county on a long-term jail deal but that he did not intend to negotiate in the media.

“As such, we will have no further comment.”

The city and county have been haggling for decades over whether and how much the city should pay to hold inmates in the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center, commonly known as the Tulsa Jail.

City officials argued for years that the city threw its support behind the 1995 sales tax proposal to build and operate a new jail with the explicit understanding that it would not be charged a daily rate to house its inmates in the jail. They also argued that the vast majority of the quarter-cent sales tax used to operate the jail is collected within the Tulsa city limits, so that asking Tulsans to pay a daily housing fee on top of that amounted to double taxation.

The county has argued that the Tulsa Jail serves as the Tulsa’s city jail and that the county should be compensated for those services.

It was not until 2009, under former Mayor Kathy Taylor, that the city agreed to pay to a daily housing rate. But that agreement expired in 2014, and the parties have been haggling ever since.

Under the 2009 agreement, the city paid $45 per inmate per day to house its municipal inmates in the Tulsa Jail. When the daily municipal inmate count exceeded 35, the rate increased to $54.13 for each additional person. The rate has since been negotiated up to $69 per inmate per day, but no formal agreement has ever been reached.