Prison budget under control, warden reports

McELHATTAN — Warden John Rowley wants the public to know something.

“The costs are not running away at the jail,” he said at the county prison board’s monthly meeting Wednesday.

The Clinton County Correctional Facility currently houses some 250 prisoners, including out-of-county and Department of Homeland Security detainees. Without those inmates, the number of prisoners would be around 100 on average.

Rowley said a facility of this size typically would run a larger prison budget than the county’s current budget. Mercer County has a similarly-sized facility, with around 250 beds filled, but its budget in 2016 hovered around $7.5 million, he said. That’s almost $1 million more than Clinton County’s prison budget, which is about $6.6 million this year.

Of course, once you factor out the nearly $4.2 million in revenue the prison generates, the actual budget funded by county taxpayers is around $2.4 million.

Rowley said since 2015, prison expenses had been generally declining. In 2015, the net budget was $2.4 million. The prison had budgeted $5.8 million in expenses and spent only $5.6 million, so with revenue factored in, it was actually $200,000 under budget. In 2016, the net budget rose slightly to $2.6 million due to the state budget impasse. In 2017, it dropped to $1.965 million.

The budget has increased again, but Rowley said it’s not outside the realm of what the county can afford. And there’s always the possibility the expenses will run under budget.

“We’re running (the prison) pretty efficiently now,” he said.

He explained that the $300,000 increase in the overall budget in 2018 is due to the addition of staff positions, as previously reported, and a 3 percent yearly increase in salaries, due to a negotiated contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 86, which represents the unions Court Related and Court Appointed Employees and the Corrections Officers, Cooks and Maintenance Workers at the Clinton County Correctional Facility.

Rowley said the prison added six new positions this year, meaning there are correctional officers stationed in every prison housing unit for the first time ever.

“It’s not like the cost is going up, it’s just you should put someone in every housing unit,” he said.

Those positions come with costs, though. Rowley estimated that with wages and benefits, each position costs around $50,000 to implement.

He emphasized that the wages and benefits of county prison employees are not under his control, because they must be negotiated between the unions and the county.

Because the county prison houses per diem inmates, such as those transported by the state Department of Corrections or the U.S. DHS, Rowley said the prison has created almost 20 to 30 new jobs. Those people now pay taxes to the county and spend their money to stimulate the local economy, he said.

Rowley also elaborated that the increase in the 2016 prison budget can be attributed to the fact that the state did not pass a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2015 until April 2016. He said the prison lost half a million dollars in revenue from housing state prisoners because the state, which did not have a budget for nine months, sent around 20 fewer prisoners each month on average.

But Rowley said he’s been finding ways to cut costs in spite of funding issues. For example, he said, by contracting out the prison kitchen services to Aramark Corporation, the prison saved $75,000.

With the money saved, he said, the prison can reallocate those funds to other expenses such as a new mental health counselor hired this past fall.

“How is it that we can provide adequate services… in the most efficient manner and try not to increase the budget,” he said of his goal as warden.

He said he really wanted to emphasize to taxpayers that for a prison of its size, the CCCF operates on a much smaller budget. Prisons in counties similar to Clinton that house only around 100 in-county inmates without per diem inmates to increase revenue, Rowley said, have operating budgets around $3.2 million after accounting for revenue. That’s nearly $1 million more than Clinton’s prison budget.

“I want (taxpayers) to feel that and know that, because they’re paying it,” he said.

At the prison board meeting, Rowley congratulated the board members and staff present for their hard work on trying to solve mental health and addiction problems in prison inmates.

He talked about ways to improve the efficiency of the prison while managing the budget responsibly.

“I’m already capable of saying we are one of the best-run county jails in the state of Pennsylvania,” he announced proudly.