Official: Turnover rate would drop with increased benefits, pay.

By Ryn Gargulinski: Quay County Sun

Costs associated with the Quay County Detention Center are five times higher than in 2000 — from $295,000 to $1.4 million.

In hopes of controlling some of those costs, county commissioners invited Bruce Swingle of the New Mexico County Insurance Authority to a Monday workshop.
Detention Center Administrator Anthony Elebario and Magistrate Judge Edwin Brhun were among officials who attended the meeting.

Quay County Manager Terry Turner said the rising costs are ironic since crime is down.

Swingle, who visits detention centers across the state, cited various causes and assured the region its situation is not unique.

“It’s the same across the nation,” Swingle said, adding approximately one-third of a county’s budget goes for keeping inmates fed, clothed and locked behind bars.
Detention center staff chews up 70 percent of the budget, with the detention center’s annual salaries equaling $924,000, according to Turner.

“You are not overstaffed,” Swingle said, but a high turnover rate eats up funds. He suggested better benefits and pay higher than $8.50 per hour — one of the state’s lowest rates — would help retain the nearly 40 percent of workers who leave their detention center jobs each year.

Services, which rank as the second-costliest item on a jailhouse budget, are another issue Swingle urged county officials to consider. Swingle said Quay’s medical costs were low at the yearly $95,000 Elebario estimated, but food costs were high. At an annual $165,000, Quay weighs in at $2.03 per plate, Elebario said, while the statewide average is about $1.50 per meal. Elebario said the food service contract expires in October and Quay would be shopping around.

The cost of running a juvenile facility — at approximately $105 per inmate per day versus adults at $65 per day — is another chunk out of Quay taxpayers’ pockets, Swingle said. Options include forming a regional juvenile center with other counties to help with costs or farming out the underage inmates to facilities in other regions.

Getting inmates out of jail as quickly as possible is another cost cutter, according to Swingle. Elebario said the jail often houses 70 inmates, though it’s built for 50.

He said overcrowded conditions can be traced to Judge Brhun’s tenure, which began in September of 2001.

While some at the meeting referred to Brhun’s sentences as “heavy handed,” he defended his sentences as efforts to keep Quay County safe from criminals.

County officials vowed to continue to discussion on sentencing at the county commissioners’ next regular meeting, 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 12.