It has been nearly a year and a half since the city of Tulsa and Tulsa County had an agreement on what the city should pay to hold its inmates in the Tulsa Jail.
So Thursday commissioners will discuss another option — setting a flat fee.
It won’t be the first time the idea has been kicked around. At least twice before County Commissioner John Smaligo has floated the idea, and he plans to do the same at a commissioners’ management meeting Thursday.
“I will throw out my idea and ask the commissioners if they have any ideas,” Smaligo said. “We are not making any progress on this.”
Smaligo’s idea is simple: charge the city of Tulsa what it would cost to operate its own jail.
By Smaligo’s count, that could be anywhere between $3.8 million and $6 million.
He bases his number on what it costs Broken Arrow to operate its jail.
That city of approximately 100,000 spends $964,000 a year to operate its jail, Smaligo said.
Given that the city of Tulsa’s population is approximately 400,000 — or four times greater than Broken Arrow’s — it would be appropriate to charge Tulsa four times $964,000, or about $3.8 million.
Were the calculation based on bookings, Smaligo said, the fee would be closer to $6 million.
Smaligo’s fellow commissioners have greeted his previous attempts to set a flat fee with respectful consideration but have never wholeheartedly endorsed it.
On Wednesday, Commissioner Ron Peters indicated he’s getting closer to doing so.
“Maybe,” Peters said. “We need to get this matter resolved and behind us so the city and county can work more constructively on issues important to the citizens of both.”
Peters added that if he can be convinced that Smaligo’s proposal is fair to all taxpayers involved, he could support it.
“Commissioner Smaligo argues that the municipalities are subsidizing the city of Tulsa inmates because the city is not paying what it costs to house those inmates,” Peters said. “And I think he makes a pretty strong case that is in fact happening.
“So, we need to define what is appropriate and fair to all.”
Peters stressed that should a flat fee be imposed it would need to be done gradually so as not to damage the city’s budget. This fiscal year the city of Tulsa has budgeted approximately $800,000 to house municipal inmates in the jail.
Another flat fee that might be worth considering goes back to a 1992 study done by the city of Tulsa, Peters said. Using figures established in the study, the city agreed to offer to pay the county $1.6 million a year to house its municipal inmates in the Tulsa Jail.
Taking into account inflation, that would be $2.7 million in 2015 dollars, Peters said.
“I think that is a reasonable floor,” the commissioner said.
The city has agreed to pay a daily housing rate equal to what the Sheriff’s Office charges the U.S. Marshals Service. The rate is $69 per inmate per day.
Jarred Brejcha, chief of staff for Mayor Dewey Bartlett, said neither flat fee proposal works because they can’t be traced back to the actual cost of holding city inmates in the jail.
“You can’t use some other jail’s number or something that was decided on 20 years ago to justify a flat fee,” Brejcha said.
The 1992 flat fee was proposed before the countywide sales tax was approved for jail operations, the majority of which is paid by Tulsans, Brejcha said
“If it (the proposal) was any year prior to the jail tax, it is totally irrelevant,” Brejcha said.
The city is not opposed to considering a flat fee but it must be based on actual costs incurred by the county to hold city inmates in the jail, Brejcha said.
He noted that Oklahoma City pays a flat fee to the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office based on the number of city inmates held in the jail the previous year.
“Everything traces its way back to how many prisoners they have there,” Brejcha said.