$2 million price tag for Lincoln County to house inmates in Minnehaha jail

KELOLAND.com Original

LINCOLN COUNTY, S.D. (KELO) — Crime may not pay in Lincoln County but it does cost taxpayers money and several county officials said it could impact the roads in the county.

Property owners in Lincoln County pay each day to house county inmates in the Minnehaha County jail at a pace of about $170,000 a month.

On Oct. 28, the county was paying $97.43 per day for each of the 58 inmates housed in Minnehaha County. That totals $5,650,94 for one day.

The county paid on average about $5,900 a day to house inmates from March through August of this year, said county sheriff Steve Swenson.

All inmates have been housed in Minnehaha County since 2020, before that Lincoln County used other counties.

Lincoln County was paying about a $1 million a year to house inmates outside the county in 2018, Swenson said. That increased to about $1.3 in 2019, he said. In 2019, the county was housing inmates in nine jails in three states, he said.

The cost was about $1.6 million in 2020.

The cost should reach about $2 million this year, Swenson said.

“Next year there is $2.5 million (in the budget) for jail expenses. We hope that’s enough,” county commissioner Mike Poppens said.

The jail expense is out of the county’s control because it can’t regulate the number of arrests made, the crimes will vary and so will the sentences.

Several county officials have said the continued inmate housing costs can negatively impact other budgets including the county’s highway budget which pays for road repair.

The county voted in November 2020 against a $50 million bond to build a new public safety center. Former county commissioner David Gillespie was against a $50 million bond for a new jail. The jail would have housed about 190 inmates, he said.

The proposed jail was too big and too expensive, Gillespie said. The proposed jail would have also included income from housing federal inmates which was not a guarantee, he said.

“We weren’t guarantee any of that, that’s for sure,” Gillespie said.

But, after the defeat of a jail bond in the Nov. 4, 2020, election, there are county officials wondering how long the annual amount paid to house inmates outside the county can be sustained.

County attorney Tom Wollman believes the county “can’t sustain paying out (nearly) $200,000 a month,” to house inmates. Wollman commented on inmate costs and caseloads for a Sept. 24 KELOLAND story on an Oct. 5 road and bridge tax levy vote.

“Lincoln County has a tight budget. This is a burden on our budget,” Swenson said.

Gillespie said asking how the county can sustain costs of $2 million a year “is a good question.” But, he said, it could not sustain the costs associated with a $50 million project.

Go to jail, go to court

The increased in crime in Lincoln County has helped the county create an advisory committee to review needs in the courthouse, including needs in the state’s attorney office.

The state attorney said in a presentation to the an advisory committee reviewing needs of the courthouse in Canton that the office reviewed more than 600 felony cases and filed in more than 500 of those. That equates to 199 cases filed per attorney in the state attorney’s office. The caseload is more than the U.S. Department of Justice’s recommended guideline, the state attorney said in the presentation.

A needs assessment also indicates a need for more courtrooms in the county.

The sheriff’s presentation to the advisory committee said that there were 7,905 calls for service in 2018 compared to 11,696 in 2019 and 13,118 in 2020.

“Fortunately for us, our crime has lagged (behind) our growth in population. But now, crime is increasing and catching up,” Poppens said.

The county’s population was 43,187 in 2010. The estimated population was 65,161, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2010, the Crime Report from the South Dakota Attorney General listed 37 reports of burglary and breaking and entering. The report from 2020 listed 133 reports.

There were 509 offenses reported in 2010. There were 971 reported in 2020.

The county has also added deputies to the department in the past several years, Swenson said.

The office has 28 full-time deputies and an annual budget of $5.3 million, according to the sheriff’s office website. Several past budgets do not show a separate breakdown of the inmate housing costs in the public safety budget.

The staff size allows the sheriff’s office to have two deputies on road patrol and citizens want protection, Swenson said.

For example, the county has had an increase in self-storage facilities which are targets for thieves, he said. Regular patrol around those storage facilities helps prevent crimes and can lead to arrests, Swenson said.

“We are constantly reviewing our custody and bond modifications,” Wollman said in September of trying to ease some pressure on the jail budget.

Where does the inmate housing money come from?

“There are only a few discretionary expenses,” Poppens said of the county’s roughly $35 million budget. “Unfortunately, one of the biggest is the highway department budget.”

The county has shifted some road projects in order to help pay for jail housing expenses, Poppens said.

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The county staff has been frugal and shrinking the size of government isn’t really an option, Poppens said.

“We have to trim in other areas, projects,” Poppens said.

“We’re not doing some road projects. There’s talk of hiring freezes…,” Swenson said.

Poppens, Swenson and Wollman said they don’t like increases in taxes, but it may need to happen if inmate costs continue to rise.

Poppens said the county has one of the lowest general fund property tax levy rates in the state. A state listing has the rate at 1.9.

The biggest share of property taxes in the county goes toward school districts.

Although the county is growing, the tax revenue created by all the growth isn’t keeping pace with increased costs such as housing inmates, Poppens, Swenson and Wollman said.

Gillespie said he has never said he would never support a new jail in the county. “In the future, we (might) be looking at something,” Gillespie said.

But he’s not ready to support a project yet.

He believes county residents may support a future project at lower cost than $50 million to house fewer inmates, with the possibility of expansion.

If the county does decide to seek another jail/public safety bond, Poppens said, as a commissioner, he needs to do a better job of explaining the county’s budget, the need, and taxes.

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