ST. PAUL -- County officials across Minnesota complain they are forced to collect up to $9 million more in property taxes because the state does not fully pay for prisoners it orders counties to hold.
"We're losing money," Kandiyohi County Commissioner Richard Larson said.
Chief Deputy Sheriff Scott McNurlin of Goodhue County said the Goodhue County Adult Detention Center in Red Wing houses two to four state prisoners on average, at a cost of $60 per inmate per day. "It does drain our resources," he said.
On the other hand, Goodhue's relatively new jail has enough space that it can take in prisoners from other counties, and that gives Goodhue County some extra revenue.
To balance the Minnesota budget in 2003, legislators and Gov. Tim Pawlenty agreed to require counties to house some prisoners in county jails. Those prisoners, who have less than six months to serve on felony sentences, are a state responsibility, but the state never has fully compensated counties for the expense.
Each day a county jail houses a prisoner, it costs anywhere from $55 to more than $100, county officials say. But the state has only paid $9 to $13 for the past few years, until payments spiked at $27.24 this year. They are to fall back to about $9 next year.
The Association of Minnesota Counties estimates that will cost counties $6 million to $9 million next year -- money that must come from taxes paid by local property owners.
County officials, meeting in St. Paul, decided on Thursday to call attention to the situation. They laid hundreds of jail jumpsuits on the Capitol steps to protest the situation.
The impact varies greatly from county to county, with small-population counties such as Lake County losing no more than $2,640 next year, the association estimates, for housing just two state felons.
But neighboring St. Louis County could lose nearly $540,000 for holding 170 state prisoners.
St. Louis County Commissioner Dennis Fink said the state and county governments need to work together to solve the financial problem. "All units of government are in this economic crisis together," he said.
County leaders called for state-county meetings to find a way that the state can pay more for its inmates. A key legislator said he will hold such meetings, but county officials should not get their hopes up.
"The challenge is the state doesn't have the money to make changes right now," said Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, chairman of the Senate Taxes Committee.
When lawmakers gather in January to begin drawing up the next two-year budget, Bakk said, they probably will need to trim budgets, not increase them.
Before the real budget-writing work begins next year, Bakk plans to invite local government leaders into his committee to discuss the fiscal state-county relationship. But, Bakk said, local officials should go into those meetings with their eyes open.
"People should lower expectations," he said.