Stone Co. leaders say if MDOC pulls state inmates work program, tax hikes likely

Stone Co. leaders say if MDOC pulls state inmates work program, tax hikes likely

STONE COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Stone County leaders said the Mississippi Department of Corrections' plan to save taxpayer money will actually end up making residents reach deeper into their pockets. Stone County is one of 30 counties affected by a MDOC decision to end the Joint State County Worker Program. Stone County officials said the change doesn't make good financial sense.

Stone County spent $200,000 to construct a building specifically to house inmates for Joint State County Worker Program. Now that MDOC is looking to pull the plug on the program, the sheriff said not only will the building sit empty, but some of his employees will be out a job.

"It would directly impact the Stone County Regional's budget approximately $27,000 a year," said Sheriff Mike Farmer. "I would lose employees because I won't have the money to pay them. This is part of what runs this facility."

MDOC's Commissioner Marshall Fisher said in a news release that the more effective use of taxpayer dollars is eliminating JSCWP and spreading those inmates among 17 community work centers. However, Sheriff Farmer said his county owned jail is more cost effective than the community work centers, which are state run facilities.

"We house them for $20  a day," said Sheriff Farmer. "The state, the CWC, which is the same identical inmate, according to MDOC website is $43.43 cents a day. So we do it for half of what they do."

Stone County leaders say they are facing about a $1 million loss in free labor from inmates who do everything from cutting grass to cleaning roads and cemeteries to maintaining county vehicles. 

"We're going to have to hire additional people to fill these positions. We're not asking for anything new. We're talking about just to maintain the status quo of what we have now," said Scott Strickland, Stone County Board of Supervisors President. "So you're talking 30 to 50 additional workers that will have to be hired. The only means that local counties have of doing that is increasing your ad valorem taxes."

County officials say taxes would also have to be raised since the county built the Stone County Regional Jail using bond money and there will be less money coming in to pay the note.

Strickland compared MDOC's actions to an unfunded mandate. He said the 30 counties, now running the program, will see about $25 million in loses if it goes away.

"I don't quite understand how they come across with these numbers because in the end we all work for the taxpayers," Strickland said. "If they cut services that would require local governments to increase taxes then that increase is coming from Jackson. "

Right now the Joint State County Inmate Program is slated to end in early August.

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