As Tulsa County prepares to charge the city of Tulsa a flat fee for holding municipal inmates in the Tulsa Jail, a few obvious questions arise:
Does the city have the money to pay the flat fee? If so, will it agree to pay it? And what happens if the city doesn’t have the money, or refuses to pay?
Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s chief of staff, Jarred Brejcha, said Thursday that the city does not have the money to pay the higher rate, and wouldn’t pay it if it did.
“They don’t want it (the flat fee) to have a relation to what our prisoners’ actually costs are,” Brejcha said of the county. “We don’t see that as fair.”
County Commissioner John Smaligo recently renewed his call to have the city pay an annual flat fee of $4 million to $6 million. The figure is based on what the city of Broken Arrow spends to operate its jail.
Commissioner Ron Peters has his own method of calculating the actual cost. A 1992 report from the city of Tulsa, Peters notes, found that the city should be paying $1.6 million a year to hold its inmates in the jail.
Taking into account inflation, as well as increased medical and transportations costs, the annual cost to hold municipal inmates in the jail in 2015 is likely more than $3 million, Peters said.
“I would say it would be no later than three weeks” before we have a vote on the flat fee, Peters said Wednesday.
Peters, who has led the county’s jail negotiations with the city, defended the county’s decision to move forward with the flat fee.
“We have had negotiations (with the city) for about 21 months and we haven’t gotten very far, so it is our responsibility to set appropriate costs, and we are going to move forward in that direction,” he said.
Brejcha said the county is changing the rules midstream by going from a rate based on actual costs to a rate it believes the city should pay.
“If anybody is wondering why these talks have been so difficult and why we haven’t gotten to an agreement, if this doesn’t clarify that picture, I don’t know what does,” Brjecha said.
A private study done for the Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority found it costs $64.13 a day to hold an inmate in the jail.
The city of Tulsa pays $69 per day per inmate. With approximately 30 municipal inmates in the jail each day, the annual cost is approximately $750,000.
If the county decided to charge the city a flat fee of $3.5 million, for example, and the city’s daily inmate count remained steady, the city would be paying about $320 per inmate per day.
Put another way, Brejcha said, $3.5 million would cover the cost of holding 169 municipal prisoners a day for an entire year under the current $69 rate.
“This is an aberration from where we have been negotiating this entire time,” Brejcha said. “So now they are leaving behind months and months of discussion that led to the $69 rate.”
Negotiators representing the city of Tulsa and the Criminal Justice Authority, which oversees the jail, last fall announced an agreement in principle tying the city’s daily rate to the rate paid by the U.S. Marshal’s Service.
However, the city and county have been unable to hammer out an actual agreement, with both sides characterizing their differences as minor.
“Why would they want to charge their own citizens in a partner community so much more than what they are charging the U.S. Marshal’s Service?” Brecha said.
Commissioner Karen Keith, who is chairwoman of the Criminal Justice Authority, said the county is simply looking to cover its costs.
“I just think the city has to get realistic about costs,” Keith said.
Today the city is paying half of what it agreed in 1992 was a fair rate, Keith added.
“That is inadequate,” she said.
If there is any good news to come from the latest installment of this long-standing dispute, it is that the county has not threatened to turn away municipal prisoners from the Tulsa Jail, and the city is not threatening a lawsuit — for now.
Brejcha said that if the county does implement a flat fee not based on actual costs, the city would continue to pay the $69 rate.
“As long as we are paying for our people and they are accepting our people, there is no reason to get into legal action,” he said.
But close the jail doors, Brejcha added, “that would give us no choice.”