By TESA GLASS
MT. VERNON —
County Board Chairman Robert White said the budget crisis should be resolved in the next few weeks.
“I anticipate knowing the direction we are going to have to take in the next three to four weeks,” White said. “One way or another.”
The county went into what White calls “lock down mode” after Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees were pulled from the Jefferson County Justice Center, creating a budget gap by about $3 million less than a week into the new fiscal year.
ICE pulled its detainees due to concerns about medical staffing. According to Gail Montenegro of ICE, the relocation is temporary based on when the medical staffing issues at the facility can be resolved. Montenegro said the concerns are based on medical staffing levels as well as timely and appropriate medical treatment.
Jefferson County Sheriff Roger Mulch is working to bring the facility to standard to get the ICE detainees back, however, the lack of funds from ICE is a primary concern of the board.
On Monday, the county board voted to lay off four deputies in the Sheriff’s Office. White said during the meeting he hopes the layoff notices is a temporary situation.
“They may not even feel it, because again, these reductions can’t take place immediately per our contract with the unions because they get a 45-day notice,” White said of citizens and the services received by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. “At the end of 45 days, it will, in fact, become permanent. But by then, we should know what our clear path is.”
White said all the employees and office holders have to work together as a team to get through the next few weeks.
“The more we dig into what we need, it is becoming extremely difficult to close the loop,” White said. “Next week I am meeting with office holders to discuss what is needed to fix the budget. Jan. 21 is the drop dead date — which is the Monday before the January board meeting.”
White said the county has received indications of what pricing for full medical services will be at the Justice Center.
“We know the area of what we need to take, which is not necessarily what we want,” White said. “The challenge is how do you move pieces around in the budget to make it work.”
White said cuts will still need to be made to cover the loss of revenues until ICE detainees can be regained.
“We have to make cuts whether it’s two months or three months,” White said. “Sadly, when it comes to labor, they are not willing to work with us. ... No one wants to give anything up, no one wants to sacrifice. This could be a permanent thing. ... We can’t just pull the trigger and bring everything back.”
At this time, White is doing an analysis of the cost per bed for the Justice Center.
“I’m finding out what it costs per bed per night without ICE detainees and just house our prisoners and I’m finding out what is costs with ICE,” White said. “I’m using real budget figures, and then we can look at the expense load and know where we are at and where we need to be.”