Counties want out of juvenile project

Thursday, April 18, 2002

ASKING FOR MONEY BACK

By Mark Bliss ~ Southeast Missourian

The Bollinger and Perry County commissions don't want to help pay for a new juvenile center in Cape Girardeau County. They say the law is on their side and they want their money back.

Both commissions want Cape Girardeau County to return thousands of dollars that are their shares of the juvenile fund surplus, money that could have gone to help build a new juvenile center.

With the project mired in controversy that has led to a budget battle before a state board and continuing doubts about the need for a new detention center, commissioners in Bollinger and Perry counties want out of the project.

Bollinger County commissioners have even gone so far as to quit making their $3,600 monthly payments to fund juvenile operations for the past several months.

Ken Trentham, presiding commissioner of Bollinger County, said the county doesn't have the money to keep paying more and more to juvenile operations.

"Right now, we can't afford to go out and spend more money for a juvenile center or juvenile services because we just don't have it," he said.

Poor investment

Trentham said Bollinger County, which contributes 12 percent of the juvenile budget, is getting little for its money. Most of the juvenile offenders detained in the center are from Cape Girardeau, he said.

"We feel Bollinger County is subsidizing the detention of Cape Girardeau County juveniles," Trentham said.

Perry County commissioners feel the same way. Patrick Heaps, 1st District commissioner in Perry County, said his county also wants its share of the surplus and is considering stopping its monthly payments of more than $5,000 to the juvenile fund administered by Cape Girardeau County.

"We haven't taken that step because we are still looking into the legality of it," Heaps said.

Both Trentham and Heaps believe their counties could save money by simply paying a fee for every juvenile offender from their counties who is detained by the circuit's juvenile officers.

"We think we could save some money and still take care of the juvenile population that we have," Heaps said.

Gerald Jones, Cape Girardeau County presiding commissioner, said he understands their concerns.

"I don't blame them," he said.

Bollinger and Perry counties have third-class governmental status and are controlled by different state laws than first-class counties. Third-class counties don't have to provide juvenile detention facilities; first-class counties such as Cape Girardeau must provide juvenile detention centers.

H. Weldon Macke, Cape Girardeau County auditor, said there's currently a $490,000 surplus that's accrued over the past three years. That money was budgeted for juvenile operations by Cape Girardeau, Bollinger and Perry counties, but wasn't spent.

Cape Girardeau County currently pays 69 percent of juvenile operations costs, excluding salaries of the juvenile office and detention staff which are paid by the state. Perry County contributes 19 percent of the budget and Bollinger County provides the other 12 percent.

Under state law, the counties pay on the basis of their overall populations.

Based on those percentages, Bollinger County is owed nearly $59,000. Perry County would get back just over $93,000.

But as Bollinger County continues not to make its monthly payments, money from its portion of the three-county surplus will be drawn out to cover the missed payments, Macke said.

If the juvenile center project is scuttled this year, Macke said Cape Girardeau County would probably take back the remaining surplus -- over $338,000 -- which could then go into the county's general revenue fund and be spent for other county operations.

New facility

Judges and the chief juvenile officer in the 32nd Judicial Circuit have pushed for the counties to put more money into the juvenile budget and build a new juvenile center to replace the aging, 10-bed center in Cape Girardeau.

The fierce budget battle ongoing from last year is to decide the amount and use of money for juvenile operations. The matter is now before the Missouri Judicial Finance Commission. The seven-member commission appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court includes three county commissioners from around the state, three circuit judges and an appeals court judge.

Attorney A.J. Seier, a former circuit judge from Cape Girardeau, is representing the circuit judges. The county commissions are represented by Bill McCullah, an attorney from Forsyth, Mo.

Briefs have been filed. McCullah said a decision could come within the next two months.

Both sides say key issues center on how much money the counties are putting into juvenile operations and whether the surplus can be used by the counties to pay other expenses of government.

The commissioners say any surplus in the juvenile fund can be returned to the counties' general revenue funds. The circuit judges say it must stay in the juvenile fund and be used only for juvenile department expenses including building a new center.

The three counties combined earmark $365,000 a year for juvenile operations with $252,334 of that coming from Cape Girardeau County.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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