County accepts more money for inmates, but asks tough questions

WOODSTOCK – McHenry County Board members critical of a money-losing contract to house federal inmates at the county jail took advantage of a $10 increase in the per diem rate to ask tough questions and air their concerns.

County Board members voted Tuesday, 17-5 with two absent, to accept an intergovernmental agreement increasing the rate it gets from the U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Under the new agreement, the rate will increase from $85 to $95 an inmate per day, and the hourly rate for transporting inmates will increase from $34 to $46.48. The new agreement replaces rates last set in 2008.

But the increase only pares down the county’s net loss for accepting federal inmates. Several estimates have placed that cost between $106 and $131, but critics have pointed out that no solid figure exists.

“We are paying for the privilege of housing these people,” said Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard. “The question we’ve never had answered is, how much?”

The reimbursement increase applies to both the Marshals and ICE, but the county is trying to get more money from ICE because its inmate population is larger and costs more money, County Administrator Peter Austin said. The original agreement allocates 50 spaces in the jail for Marshals prisoners and 206 for those held by ICE.

The contract the county has with the federal government to house detainees expires in October 2015.

It dates back to 2003, when the County Board accepted $6.4 million to help pay for expanding the jail, provided the county accept an agreement in which the Marshals and the newly created ICE could house up to 256 federal detainees a day for 10 years from the expansion’s completion. The contract stipulates the government can hold people awaiting trial on federal charges, people sentenced and waiting to go to federal prison, and people waiting for an immigration hearing or deportation.

The county jail can house up to 650 inmates.

Several County Board members voted in favor of the increase in order to capture the extra money, but they made their displeasure known about operating at a loss and not knowing the true costs.

“It’s been a high level of frustration for me because I’ve never been able to get the information,” said member Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills.

Costs of the federal inmate housing contract came up during the contentious Republican primary race for county sheriff. Candidate Bill Prim, who won the March primary, said the contract loses money and that he will take a more active role in the negotiations if the County Board considers renewing it. Undersheriff Andrew Zinke, who lost the primary, said he would support renewing it only if the County Board deems it to be cost-effective.

The county entered into a $60,000 agreement with Summerill Group, a Washington, D.C.-based firm, to get more money from housing federal inmates. The $131 per-inmate estimate came from a 2013 proposal Summerill submitted as part of its bid to negotiate the county’s contract.

The number of federal inmates being held in the jail has been steadily decreasing. The jail housed 161 federal prisoners last month, down about one third from the 242 it housed a year prior, and down half from the 331 it held in December 2011, according to records.

County staff estimates the county would have received an additional $892,360 in revenue last year, and another $1.06 million in 2012, had the rate increases approved Tuesday been in place.

Among the “no” votes was that of board member Joe Gottemoller, which surprised his fellow board members because he spoke out in favor of taking the increased revenue. He said he would have voted yes had he been the deciding vote, but wanted to send a message about the overall contract.

“I also wanted everyone to be aware of the fact we are not going to do this after October 2015, unless someone can show me better data,” Gottemoller said after the vote.


How they voted

The McHenry County Board voted Tuesday, 17-5, to approve an intergovernmental agreement raising the per diem and transportation costs for housing federal inmates at the county jail.

Voting no were Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary, Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard, Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, and James Heisler, R-Crystal Lake.

Members Mary McClellan, R-Holiday Hills, and Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry, were absent.

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