Ocean Springs closes jail, eliminates 3 jobs

Ocean Springs closes jail, eliminates 3 jobs
The jail inside the Ocean Springs Police Department is now closed. And the three jailers assigned to the jail will have their jobs eliminated. (WLOX News)

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - WLOX News has confirmed Ocean Springs is the latest city to be facing a budget deficit. And jobs in that city will soon be eliminated.

“We’re making hard decisions to get the city healthy,” Ocean Springs Mayor Shea Dobson said Thursday night, “because it’s not healthy.”

One of those hard decisions was made August 21. Ocean Springs aldermen voted to close the city jail. The next day, inmates got transferred to the Jackson County Adult Detention Center. And the city’s three jailers were told that starting October 1, they would no longer be on the Ocean Springs payroll.

“It’s very distressing to the men and women at the Ocean Springs Police Department,” Chief Mark Dunston said.

Aldermen admit Ocean Springs faces a deficit of roughly $600,000. According to Alderman Mike Impey, “Revenue projections didn’t quite live up to what they were originally projected to be.” Consequently, Impey and two other aldermen have told WLOX News they must make tough cuts to balance next year’s budget.

The mayor said an increase in the payments Ocean Springs makes into the state retirement system, additional healthcare costs, a new billing system and new body cameras for patrolmen all contributed to the projected budget deficit. He also pointed a finger at the inattention of past administrations.

“We’re shining a light on all the dark corners in the city,” Dobson said, “and we’re finding how the city was run not very efficiently.”

Closing the jail and shipping inmates to Jackson County is what other cities around the county are now doing. Instead of paying $65/day per inmate at the city jail, Ocean Springs will pay Jackson County about $35/day per inmate.

“It’s not as cost effective for us to staff a jail,” Impey explained.

Chief Dunston reached out to Jackson County’s sheriff and asked him to consider hiring the city three jailers.

“They’re good guys,” Dunston said, while explaining why aldermen said transferring the three employees to another section of the police department was not an option. “I’m very grateful to the sheriff for taking a look at hiring them.”

Sheriff Ezell said hiring all three jailers makes sense, because he has vacancies at the adult detention center, and they have the experience he needs.

“We’re going to hire those three guys, that’s the plan,” the sheriff said tonight while at the Boys and Girls Club’s Steak and Stake dinner. “We had openings available in our jail.”

Rumors have swirled around Ocean Springs that other city jobs could be in jeopardy. When we asked Alderman Impey if anyone else would be eliminated when the new budget year begins October 1, he simply said, “No.” So did the mayor. Dobson confirmed pay increases for city employees are not part of the fiscal year 2019 budget.

Ocean Springs has a budget hearing Friday night. At that time, the 2019 budget may be adopted.

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