After recent meetings between city of Laramie and Albany County officials, Sheriff David O’Malley said Tuesday it’s possible both parties will agree to have the city pay the county $75 per day for prisoners arrested on municipal violations that are housed in the Albany County Detention Center.
That’s about the average price across the state for the 13 counties that charge municipalities to house prisoners, O’Malley said.
He said that, had the county been charging that rate over the last decade, the city of Laramie would’ve paid an average of $137,917 annually.
In that same time frame, the specific costs per year fluctuated by as much as $100,000.
Because of that, O’Malley also suggested that both parties could still negotiate a flat annual rate instead for a per-prisoner fee to make budgeting easier.
The city’s attorney, Bob Southard, agreed at Tuesday’s commission meeting that flat fee might be better for budgeting, but said he had yet to discuss that possibility with members of the Laramie City Council.
About a year ago, O’Malley said he’d prefer to stay out of the contract negotiations to avoid straining his working relationship with the Laramie Police Department.
“That didn’t work, and I’ve been involved,” he said Tuesday. “We need to move forward and get this over with.”
In 1992, the city and county signed an agreement that allows Laramie to house municipal prisoners for free at the county jail until the agreement expires July 1, 2020.
With that contract expiring, county officials have expressed a desire to now receive some payment.
City of Laramie Manager Janine Jordan had requested a draft agreement from Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent by Jan. 15.
If the two parties do not negotiate a deal by the middle of 2020, the 1992 agreement stipulates that the municipal prisoners shall continue to be housed for free until those arrangements “are specifically revoked by affirmative action of the county.”
That agreement came after Albany County bonded for $3 million in 1989, when voters approved a tax to help construct a new county jail. However, the jail project later cost the county much more than originally expected, creating a funding shortfall of $2.4 million.
The city agreed to cover 85% of the shortfall by issuing more revenue bonds.
In return, the county offered to house municipal prisoners for free.
At a county board meeting in December, Trent suggested using the jail negotiations to implement criminal justice reform in the city.
O’Malley said Tuesday that he doesn’t share that sentiment, and he believes the focus of the new agreement should be to establish “a revenue source for the county.”
“I’m a believer in criminal justice reform. I always have been, but I believe that responsibility is on the backs of our legislators and not the governmental bodies,” O’Malley said. “That’s something that should be worked through the Department of Corrections and probation and parole. Muddying this issue with criminal justice reform doesn’t make sense to me.”
O’Malley also contested Trent’s December assertion that her office “has a hard time getting high bonds to keep people in jail who should be in jail because we have our jail consumed by non-violent people.”
“That’s not the case,” O’Malley said. “We’ve never turned anybody away because we were full on non-violent offenders. The only complaint I’ve heard about bonds is blaming it on the judge — not the way the detention center operates.”
When Trent suggested using the jail negotiations as an opportunity for criminal justice reform, she also said that too many young people are needlessly arrested for alcohol violations and substance abuse.
“For (University of Wyoming) students arrested for drinking offenses, we need to explore other avenues other than our jail,” she said in December.
O’Malley said Tuesday that, when people are arrested for alcohol violations, it’s for good reason.
“Those young people come in because (Laramie Police Department) Chief Dale Stalder’s people saved their lives when they’re a 0.35% (blood-alcohol concentration) … and it’s 18 degrees below zero and they live on Gibbon and they think it’s (the opposite direction),” he said. “So they go to jail and spend the night and blow zeros and go to municipal court and, most of the time, they’re released.”
Defending her previous statements, Trent said after Tuesday’s meeting that, when UW students are in town, the jail’s daily arrest logs that are published in the Laramie Boomerang provide ample evidence of high numbers of young people arrested on alcohol violations.
As county officials now ask for payment under a new contract, they’re also wary that such a demand could lead to a financial stand-off with the city.
Currently, the city provides ambulance service to Albany County residents outside of city limits. While the city doesn’t receive direct payments from the county for that service, it does receive partial reimbursement from Ivinson Memorial Hospital when the hospital receives insurance reimbursements for the ambulance service.
As county commissioners have asked the city for jail funding, some city council-members have, in turn, suggested billing the county for non-reimbursed costs for ambulance service provided for non-Laramie residents.
“I’ve found this to be unnecessarily adversarial, and I find that to be not cool,” Commissioner Heber Richardson said Tuesday about possible tit-for-tat billing. “Because (city council) passed a resolution that monopolizes EMS, then those people in the county wouldn’t have any option for how they could get to the hospital. It’s getting a little bit Keystone Cops-ish. … If I were on council, I would be nervous about the optics of threatening the service of people outside the city limit.”
After conferring with city council-members after the Tuesday commission meeting, Southard told the Laramie Boomerang on Wednesday that council-members would prefer to negotiate the ambulance issue separately from the jail contract.
At Saturday’s annual retreat of Laramie City Council, Mayor Joe Shumway said that ambulance service for non-Laramie residents costs the city about $600,000 each year.
“It’s time for us to negotiate,” he said. “Right now, fairness would say we have a stronger position than they do. … Our losses are about three times theirs.”
Southard told the Boomerang on Wednesday he’s not sure if Shumway’s $600,000 estimate accounts for reimbursements from the hospital.
If the city were to eventually ask the county to help pay for EMS service, Southard said city officials would ensure that they’re not “double-dipping” with the funds that are reimbursed by the hospital.
Southard said the city is not reimbursed by the insurance payments for all ambulance rides, and for cases that are reimbursed, the payment typically doesn’t cover all costs.