|Protecting our Financial Interests--April 2012 Wakulla Times Article|
PROTECTING OUR FINANCIAL INTERESTS WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
I had the opportunity to travel to Jacksonville and Washington, D.C. with Undersheriff Maurice Langston in January to take part in the Florida Sheriff’s Association (FSA) Mid-Winter Conference and a meeting with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency in the nation’s capital to discuss the future of jail bed rental space to federal detainees.
Wakulla County has housed non-local inmates in the Wakulla County Jail for the purpose of collecting jail bed revenue since the facility opened under former Sheriff David Harvey in 1991. The facility has housed ICE, U.S. Marshal, state, local inmates and inmates from other counties over the years. Now the majority of individuals in the jail are either ICE detainees or local inmates.
After visiting with Sheriff Joey Dobson of Baker County, Glades County Sheriff Stuart Whiddon and Monroe County Sheriff Robert Peryam in Jacksonville about the future of jail bed funding, the sheriffs traveled to Washington to discuss the issue face-to-face with ICE administrators.
ICE jail bed revenue pumps an estimated $3 million into the Wakulla County economy each year and has raised an estimated $32 million over the years to assist Wakulla County Commissioners fund their budgets. Some of the ICE funding has made its way back to the sheriff’s office to help fund the law enforcement and corrections operation. A portion of the funding is kept in a “rainy day” fund to help other county funded operations.
Concern over the federal government building an ICE facility in South Florida motivated the Florida sheriffs to seek assurances from ICE in Washington that local governments will not be asked to make up portions of the budgets without the federal jail bed revenue.
Sheriff Dobson, Sheriff Whiddon, Sheriff Peryam and I enlisted the assistance of Florida Senators and Congressmen to help us express their concerns in Washington.
I thought it was a very fruitful trip. We talked to a lot of people and got their support. A new (ICE) facility should not impact Wakulla County. Our Panhandle location means they will probably need us. It will be several years away if they build the (South Florida) facility.
ICE rents bed space from the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office at $74.54 per detainee per day and the WCSO Jail houses an average of 110 federal detainees per day.
We have raised about $35 million since we started housing federal inmates. We now raise about $3 million annually. If we take $3 million dollars out of the economy here we’ve got to make it up somehow. But I feel good we’re not going to be losing our detainees.
Wakulla County has housed ICE detainees for nearly 20 years and has had a partnership with the U.S. Marshal’s Office for even longer. The amount of money paid by the federal government has increased over the years from the original amount of $40 per day to the present $74.54.
Gary Mead, Executive Associate Director of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, assured the Florida sheriff’s that their facilities will still be needed and used by ICE in the future. Undersheriff Langston noted that Wakulla County does not have the debt service issues of Glades and Baker counties which used the funding to build facilities for the detainees. Senator Bill Nelson’s office and other Florida political offices from Senator Marco Rubio to Congressman Steve Southerland to Reps. Ander Crenshaw and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Connie Mack, were contacted to help with the ICE discussions. The offices assisted in facilitating the meetings to have ICE continue using jail facilities in the four counties.
Wakulla County’s agreement with ICE is a year-to-year contract. To lose ICE detainees would devastate public safety in Wakulla County as we know it. ICE money is used at the sheriff’s office and in other county commission funded departments. We have generated money by renting available bed space since 1991 and with ICE since 1992-93.
Wakulla, Glades, Baker and Monroe counties have also gained the support of the National Sheriff’s Association through Florida Sheriff’s Association Executive Director Steve Casey.
"We left the Washington, D.C. meetings feeling like we have continued to secure the investment for the future of Wakulla County,” said Undersheriff Maurice Langston. “The WCSO operates as not only a government agency, but a business enterprise.”
• A brief recap regarding some of the activity at the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office during recent weeks:
• We were able to locate a missing 21-month-old child after only 30 minutes after the mother lost track of the Panacea youngster. Lt. Richard Buckley discovered the child unharmed inside a vehicle on the property.
• A local church may get some money back from a missionary trip they were unable to take after a South Florida man failed to put the church membership money toward the special trip. The travel agent was ordered to pay restitution to the church for the money that was lost. Detective Matt Helms received praise from the State Attorney’s Office for the hard work he put in to make sure the suspect went to court and the church membership has a chance to get some of its money back.
• The sheriff’s office took part in the Special Olympics at Wakulla High School as athletes from the various schools took part in track and field events as well as Bocce at WHS. Some of the athletes will be competing at the Special Olympics Florida Area Games at Leon High School April 7 from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• The Law Enforcement Torch Run through Wakulla County that is part of the events leading up to the Special Olympics state competition will take place April 16 from 10 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. In the past, runners have jogged with the torch from the sheriff’s office to the Wakulla County Courthouse where Special Olympians speak about what the Games mean to them.
• Several child abuse suspects were arrested in recent weeks after children were observed to be bruised from adult beatings.
• A number of firearms were confiscated from the convicted felon who was reported for shooting off weapons in a residential area of Medart. Detectives also collected ammunition and a small amount of marijuana.
• A man was arrested for possession of methamphetamines at his home. He was also arrested for endangering his children when dangerous chemicals used to cook meth were discovered near a room occupied by the children.
• Two unusual traffic crashes were reported on U.S. Highway 319 after a motorist drove into a business establishment in front of the Wakulla County Courthouse and an escort driver for the U.S. Highway 319 road construction project struck a paver which was resurfacing the highway during the nighttime hours.
I hope everyone has a safe month of April and a very Happy Easter.