Jail likely to drive budget talks
Law enforcement has driven the 2017 Mesa County budget, and it’s likely that will continue into the coming years as the spending plan becomes a prisoner to the needs of a crowded jail.
Knowing full well that a budget with falling revenues couldn’t absorb it, Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis asked the Mesa County Commission for an additional $1.3 million to hire 22 new detention deputies as part of a $3.4 million total package of increased spending beginning next year.
The budget that the commission is to approve Dec. 5, however, is likely to include $1.2 million in new spending for the sheriff and about $300,000 for the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office, commission Chairwoman Rose Pugliese said.
If approved, the new spending would amount to about 12 new patrol deputies and eight new detention deputies.
That’s hardly the last word, though.
None of the proposed new spending includes adding beds to the jail. Instead, the discussion centers on how to make the best use of the jail, including ways to deal with the mental-health issues that jailers, physicians, hospital officials and others say are contributing to growing costs of incarceration, medical care and other services.
Those costs are great enough that St. Mary’s Hospital is contributing $2.5 million to West Springs Hospital in hopes of reducing St. Mary’s costs to deal with patients suffering from mental illnesses, not medical ones.
Mesa County doesn’t have that luxury. The jail is often the final stop for people who are suffering from mental illnesses, suicidal, abusing substances and so on.
The Sheriff’s Office employs one full-time and two part-time therapists who deal exclusively with inmates’ requests for aid.
Mind Springs Health, the parent organization of West Springs Hospital, also provides services in the jail.
Even without increasing the number of beds, the jail already is a money pit.
During the nearly four years he’s been on the commission, Commissioner John Justman has overseen several kitchen remodels, he noted during a tour of the jail. Commissioners are required by state law to visit the jail once a year and make certain findings, including about the quality of food served there.
“Healthful and nutritious,” Pugliese said after sampling a lunch.
Those meals went out to 468 inmates and there was room for a few more.
Eventually, though, the county is going to have find a way to add beds to the jail.
“At some point.” Pugliese said, “we’re going to have to have that conversation, but it’s not in the ‘17 budget, thank God.”