Declining reimbursement from the state of Missouri for prisoner board bills is a growing concern in Marion County.

Declining reimbursement from the state of Missouri for prisoner board bills is a growing concern in Marion County.

The level of angst reached a point that a special meeting of county officials to discuss the situation was conducted Oct. 14 at the Marion County Courthouse in Hannibal. Elected officials in attendance were Judge Rachel Bringer Shepherd, Circuit Clerk Carolyn Conners, Circuit Clerk Valerie Munzlinger, Sheriff Jimmy Shinn, Commissioners Randy Spratt and Larry Welch, and County Clerk Valerie Dornberger.

According to figures supplied by Dornberger, Marion County is on pace to suffer a board bill shortfall in the neighborhood of $115,000 in 2015.

“Overall, the county is in real good shape financially,” she said. “But we can’t take this type of hit year after year. It’s becoming a problem.”

In five of the past six years, jail board bill revenue has fallen below the budgeted amount. In 2014, the budgetary shortfall amounted to $131,030.34 when the revenue total of $643,969.66 represented a five-year low.

After missing the budgeted amount by such a wide margin in 2014, when it came time to draft the 2015 budget the county commission dropped the jail’s board bill financial goal by $100,000 to $675,000. The projected board bill revenue, however, will only total $559,720.

Judge Rachel Bringer Shepherd reported that without a conviction, either resulting from a jury trial or a guilty plea, a county cannot seek reimbursement from the state, regardless of how long the accused was behind bars. Neither are the fees accrued by an individual whose charges have been dismissed by the prosecutor. The judge said a prosecutor can choose to dismiss charges in a case up until the start of a trial.

“If they (prisoner) do not set foot in the Department of Corrections, we can’t collect (board bill reimbursement from the state),” added Jimmy Shinn, Marion County sheriff.

Judge Bringer Shepherd noted that in felony cases over which she presides, when a defendant is placed on probation, the individual is responsible for paying their board bill before they are discharged from probation. According to the judge, board bill collection from defendants on probation for felony circuit court cases has reached the highest amounts during the past two years since 2007.

The county will also not receive reimbursement from the state for those convicted of misdemeanors, only felons, Judge Bringer Shepherd said.

Extended stays while awaiting trial can significantly raise an offender’s board bill. However, Bringer Shepherd pointed out that the 10th District Circuit Court has been cited as one of the five fastest court districts in Missouri at getting cases to trial.

Shinn said that the Marion County Jail receives prisoner reimbursement from a handful of sources — the county, the federal government, Ralls County and the city of Hannibal, plus from felony probationers who are required to pay their board bill as a condition of probation. The sheriff added that revenue from the federal government ($18,000) and Ralls County are up this year, while reimbursement from Hannibal is even compared to past years.

“The only shortfall is with the (Marion) county reimbursements from the state of Missouri,” said Shinn.

Another point of discussion during the meeting was the slow rate at which prisoner per diem reimbursements are being made by the state of Missouri.

According to an e-mail presented at the meeting from the Missouri Association of Counties, “counties in general are waiting three to four months after invoicing to receive payment.” Since May of this year, Callaway County has logged $165,000 in outstanding prisoner per diem reimbursement.

In a letter to Gov. Jay Nixon, the Callaway County Commission stressed that reimbursement delays can be “detrimental to counties who rely on per diem reimbursements for budgetary purposes. Many counties are working with meager budgets; delays in restitution can quickly become a severe burden to local governments and their taxpayers who expect community services.”

Bringer Shepherd reported speaking with a Department of Corrections official who acknowledged that it did get behind in its reimbursements, but is getting caught back up.

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