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Addressing prison issues important

Mirror readers who have been following news about the Blair County commissioners’ current, challenging budget preparations are aware of the county prison’s projected “bite” out of proposed 2020 spending.

An article on Oct. 17 reported that a budget draft for 2020 indicated that the county would be spending $11 million to operate the incarceration facility during the coming year.

Meanwhile, an Oct. 7 article reported that prison salaries are projected to increase by $1 million — to a total of $4.41 million — due to a decision in late 2018 to hire 13 additional corrections officers as a safety precaution.

As that Oct. 7 article noted, because those officers were hired incrementally this year, 2019 total prison salaries are expected to add up to $3.36 million, with the full impact of the increased staffing reflected in the $4.41 million 2020 salaries figure.

Beyond those facts and numbers, the Oct. 7 article noted the fiscally troubling situation in the prison kitchen, which was described by Warden Abbie Tate as resulting from the county budget’s inability to keep up with the kitchen’s needs over the years.

“Everything has been let go for so long,” Tate said.

Commissioners’ decisions over the years to postpone addressing needs in order to avoid or lessen tax increases led to courtrooms’ problems and now are showing up in broad scope in the prison.

Tate’s equipment requests in connection with the new budget total $262,000 — some of which might be granted, many not.

The warden said a local company had predicted that $50,000 would be enough to replace the kitchen’s aged equipment.

Regarding the prison’s overall needs, commissioners Chairman Bruce Erb suggested that Tate assign priority rankings to expenses and consider purchasing longer-use equipment through a future loan or bond issue — a loan or bond issue that might or might not make sense, depending on how it would fit into the county’s approximately $50 million budget spending.

The amount $50,000 isn’t an inordinate outlay within the big spending picture, although other county departments’ needs are as important as the prison’s.

Perhaps there is some contingency money somewhere within the county’s operations that the commissioners could re-allocate to the lockup for the coming year.

As reporter Kay Stephens noted in her Oct. 7 report on the commissioners’ budget work, there are other significant issues within the total prison picture that county leaders are seeking to keep in line with available revenue, one of them being the approximately $1 million cost for food.

Erb offered the good suggestion that food costs might be able to be reduced if the county utilized bulk purchasing more effectively.

As law-abiding county taxpayers whose hard-earned money finances the prison operations watch the budget preparations, going forward — the commissioners intend to introduce a balanced spending plan on Nov. 12, after having begun budget-assembly work with a wish list of expenses exceeding incoming revenue by $8.52 million — those taxpayers need to realize the financial pressures county leaders shoulder each year as a result of lawbreakers.

At the same time, those who break the law and are imprisoned fail to understand that when they commit a crime there are many more victims than those at the crime scenes.

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