The state of Missouri owes about $19.25 million to county jails for housing state prisoners, and it's unknown if or when those payments will be caught up.
"Currently, there's an auditing system in place which has a deficit," said Karen Pojmann, Department of Corrections communications director. "It's accurate that we won't make any more payments until January 2018."
Payments to counties are paid in the order received and reimbursements are paid quarterly. The last payments were made in early October when Callaway County was due $244,388.92, according to a document supplied by Pojmann. Callaway County Presiding Commissioner Gary Jungermann said the current outstanding amount due to Callaway County currently is about $135,000.
The DOC receives about $10 million each quarter for county reimbursements, Pojmann said.
"That's just our process because we have no other solution at this point," she added. "This isn't a county-by-county problem, and it's not a new problem. We inherited a $19 million deficit."
Two years ago, when the amount owed to Callaway County by DOC was $165,000, Jungermann and two other county commissioners sent a letter of protest to then-Gov. Jay Nixon. Jungermann said the state regularly remains at least six months behind in payments for boarding prisoners.
"I do believe they are behind. But they need to quit creating new programs," he added.
In Callaway County, the jail is administrated by county Sheriff Clay Chism. At 10 a.m. Thursday, Callaway County will have a public hearing regarding the 2018 county budget.
"We're spending about $1.4 million on the jail and $1.899 on the sheriff's office," Jungermann said.
By law, jail administrators have to keep prisoners in the same physical condition as they arrived. They are required to be monitored, taken to doctors when necessary and fed by specific standards. Prisoners in the Callaway County Jail receive 2,400 calories per day with a cold breakfast and hot lunch and dinner.
As cases progress through court, inmates may remain in the county jail for more than a year before conviction transfers them to a state-run facility or they are freed. Reimbursements can be requested after the inmate leaves the county jail, Jungermann said.
The cost per day to house an inmate in Callaway County's jail is $48. The amount of reimbursement fluctuates annually. From July 1 to June 30 of next year, the rate of reimbursement for each prisoner is $22.58 per day.
"It might take another six months to get paid," he said. "We might get half of our money back. Annually, we get about $300,000, $350,000, but this year, we won't get as much because the state says they're broke."
State budget constraints have been blamed for the delay in prisoner reimbursement payments. Last week, Gov. Eric Greitens said he didn't have an immediate statement regarding the slow payments.
"We have a struggle in our budget," Greitens said. "We've got lots and lots of priorities."
Letters from DOC Chief Financial Officer Susan D. Pulliam were sent Sept. 13 to presiding commissioners in all of the state's 114 counties. The following was stated:
Callaway County was paid $161,072.96 in fiscal year 2016-17 and was paid $201.492.12 to date in fiscal year 2017-18. On Aug. 31, outstanding claims were $29,799.54. (That bill was $244,388.92 by Oct. 31, according to another document supplied by Pojmann.)
Cole County was paid $456,693.64 in fiscal year 2016-17 and was paid $104,664.88 to date in fiscal year 2017-18. On Aug. 31, outstanding claims were $107,993.58. (That bill was $89,847.84 by Oct. 31.)
Boone County was paid $608,967.08 in fiscal year 2016-17 and was paid $155,607.42 in fiscal year 2017-18. On Aug. 31, outstanding claims were $696.098.38. (The bill was $531,471.98 by Oct. 31.)
Miller County was paid $296,089.14 in fiscal year 2016-17 and was paid $65,634.56 to date in fiscal year 2017-18. On Aug. 31, outstanding claims were $119,125.68. (That bill was $93,727.70 by Oct. 31.)
Moniteau County was paid $86,100.86 in fiscal year 2016-17 and was paid $27,654.40 to date in fiscal year 2017-18. On Aug. 31, outstanding claims were $23,193.52. (That bill was $22,618.06 by Oct. 31.) Osage County was paid $6,765.06 in fiscal year 2016-17 and was paid $1,643.60 to date in fiscal year 2017-18. On Aug. 31, outstanding claims were $4,436.78. (That bill was $10,938.10 by Oct. 31.)
The appropriation for fiscal year 2016-17 was $40,030,272, according to Pulliam's Sept. 13 letter. That amount is dispersed quarterly in the amount of $10,007,568 within 10 business days.
"Bills are paid first-come-first-paid until the allotment is gone," Boone County Auditor June Pitchford said. "It doesn't cover all the requests that come in."
The September DOC letters also state current funding levels and the reimbursement schedule, combined with a pre-existing backlog of approved invoices, created a delay in paying new invoices, Pitchford added.
She said the issue of non-payments has the ability to back up financial fluidity at the county level.
"It's an important priority for us," she said. "We are housing the state's prisoners. They were arrested on state charges and are being processed through the state's judicial system. The backlog is going to get larger and larger and larger."
In Boone County, the cost of housing a prisoner is $65 per day. Last Thursday, there were 183 prisoners at the 223-bed Boone County jail.
"The states pay about a third of that," Pitchford said. "We don't have any insurance that any of this will ever be paid."
With an average inmate population per day of 67-70, Callaway County services can continue for the time being — but that grace period won't last forever.
"We can go for a little while, but some counties — the smaller ones with 6,000 people — their budget is built around that payment," Jungermann said.
Missouri is one of the few states that reimburse counties for a portion of a defendant's entire local jail time while the person's case goes through the court system. Moving accused people through the court system faster would ease overcrowding and the cost of housing at county jails, Jungermann said.
"The criminal justice system that we have in Missouri — it's broken, and it needs to be fixed," he added. "It's not just about prisoner per diem. The state is paying prisons, public defenders all the way through it. Public defenders, they (legally) represent probably 90 percent of the inmate population. I just know it's taking longer and longer to get these people out of jail and into prison or back on the street."
Jungermann said the state is required to have a balanced budget, but stalling legitimate payments to jails puts county governments in a bind.
"Every county in the state has the potential of going upside down in their budget because of the state," he added. "At the local level, the state is short-changing counties to make sure their budget remains intact."
Jungermann said he would be willing to have conversations with state officials if it would help.
"It's frustrating, but we need to protect the citizens," he added. "They (state officials) need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem."
Greitens signed an executive order June 30 to form a 21-member task force to reform Missouri's corrections system. This task force, chaired by Director of Corrections Anne Precythe, has been meeting monthly in Jefferson City, and reimbursements reportedly have been part of the discussion. The task force is expected to produce a written report of recommendations by the end of the year.
Dick Burke, executive director of the Missouri Association of Counties, said his organization is part of Greitens' new task force.
"We are a part of those discussions; our last meeting was yesterday," he said Thursday. "What was done in the past (about paying reimbursements) isn't working, and there must be a better way to do things, a new approach."
He said inmate reimbursements have long been a problem in Missouri.
"It's always been a major issue, a perennial issue," and a complex one, Burke added.