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County jail needs emergency funds to operate

LAWTON, Okla._Comanche County commissioners are pinching pennies to figure out how to fund the county jail.

The rising number of inmates and the shrinking number of rented beds to the Department of Corrections means the county's costs are going up. Now, commissioners are dipping into a savings account to fund it.

Just last week, the U.S. Marshal’s did their yearly check and the only write up was too many inmates. The capacity of the jail is 283, currently there are 310 inmates. When the jail was built it was meant to be able to have 60 DOC inmates that they would rent beds to, meaning they were prepared for 220 county inmates at max. The jail rents around 50 beds to the DOC, meaning the county is paying for 260 inmates causing them to dip into a different savings account.

"That is our savings account the county has for emergency type situations whatever they might be," explained Gail Turner, District 1 County Commissioner.

The county had been drawing money out of a savings account that was built up from the original quarter cent jail sales tax that was created years ago, but that has run dry. Now the county must dip into a general savings account that rolls over each year; they had to use $65,000 this month to pay for the rising jail cost.

Commissioner Turner says barring no other emergencies, the savings account should hold the county through the end of the year.

"It's going to be pretty tight by the time we get to the end of the year because if you take $60,000 out of anything each month to operate a facility, you know, $60,000 a month is definitely going to make a difference in how we are going to have to do business to make it happen between now and January 1," said Turner.

He says the jail numbers are too high and the DOC inmates will have to get lower meaning in the long term, the only way to continue to fund the jail is by passing the new sales tax in June.

To fix those financial problems, commissioners have looked at all solutions and it is not all about asking for those tax dollars. They've worked with the Comanche County judicial system on how those inmate numbers can be lowered. One idea that was presented was to release non-violent offenders back into the community.

Turner says the new tax would add an eighth of a cent tax to the existing one so even if they lose out on DOC inmates in the future they will be prepared for the loss of money

The new county sales tax is up for a vote on June 24.

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