Marion County is still seeking payments for housing inmates in change-of-venue cases and state prisoners

With the money due Marion County by the state of Missouri for housing state prisoners approaching $200,000, the County Commission has sent out a reminder to area lawmakers and the governor requesting payment sooner than later.

According to Presiding Commissioner Lyndon Bode, letters to Gov. Eric Greitens, state Sen. Brian Munzlinger and state Rep. Lindell Shumake were signed by Commission members during Monday’s meeting at the courthouse in Palmyra and put in the mail.

“The letter says we’re behind $179,000 this year so far,” said Bode. “We don’t know whether it’s just the end of their fiscal year and they have plans to catch everybody up in July.”

While Bode said the state’s tardiness in reimbursing is not causing Marion County a “serious cash-flow problem,” it is concerning.

During a recent meeting of county and judicial officials regarding prisoner reimbursements, County Clerk Valerie Dornberger reported that as of June 20 the county had received just one state reimbursement check ($44,000) so far this year.

“That’s not good,” she said.

Lagging reimbursements are not exclusive to Marion County. The problem is widespread enough that the Missouri Association of Counties (MAC) has taken note.

“It’s working with the Department of Corrections to alert them about the untimeliness of counties receiving their prisoner reimbursements,” said Bode, adding that MAC has sent out a survey to counties in an attempt to determine just how much is owed statewide and how long the reimbursements have been outstanding.

The state is not the only entity which owes Marion County reimbursement fees. There are Missouri counties which haven’t paid up after housing prisoners at the county jail in Palmyra during change-of-venue cases.

At the Jan. 17 Marion County Commission meeting Sheriff Jimmy Shinn reported that nine jurisdictions owed the county approximately $93,000 as a result of housing their prisoners. After sending out the initial wave of reminders Shinn reported mixed results.

“We’ve only received payments from a couple of jurisdictions,” said the sheriff during the June 20 gathering. “St. Charles (County) wouldn’t even respond. Boone County hasn’t responded to me yet. Those were two big ones (bills owed) because individuals were incarcerated in our jail for over a year.”

Shinn was asked by the Commission to send out another round of letters.

“I’ll send it to the court clerk to let them know that money is due to us,” he said.

Other options were also proposed.

“If there’s no response (to the next letter) I don’t know if we need to get involved as a county commission talking to their county commission,” said Bode.

David Clayton, the county’s prosecuting attorney, suggested checking to see “what litigation options we have” against counties that refuse to pay reimbursement fees.

Board bill shortfalls at the jail are nothing new. Since 2001 reimbursement revenue has exceeded budget just four times – 2002 ($425,134), 2003 ($68,112), 2006 ($17,653) and 2012 ($72,024). The record amount taken in during 2002 followed a record loss of $403,632 in 2001. Of note is the fact that the budgeted amount was slashed from $957,000 (2001) to $551,500 (2002).

During the past decade the county has been lowering its budgetary expectations regarding the board revenue that is anticipated from the jail. The budget figure has been reduced from $1,011,000 in 2007 to $675,000 in both 2015 and 2016.

“We’ve dropped the budgeted amount and we don’t even make that amount. That is the big problem,” said Dornberger.

Despite the reduced budget Marion County’s budget shortfall in 2016 ($166,254) ranks No. 2 since 2001.

The county’s board bill deficit not only reached six figures last year, but also in 2015 ($121,781) and 2014 ($131,030).

Bode offered a theory that as the county grows in population, so has the number of people who must be housed in the jail, which limits the number of its 104 slots that are open to “paying boarders.”

“We’re housing more county prisoners and we just have to cover those costs,” he said.

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com