Sheriff Nienhuis transfers Federal Inmate Housing revenue, identifies key issues to resolve

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Sheriff Nienhuis transfers Federal Inmate Housing revenue, identifies key issues to resolve

August 02, 2017 - 09:38

During the “Correspondence to Note” portion of the Tuesday July 25, 2017 BOCC meeting, the commission briefly discussed revising a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Sheriff’s Office. The MOU they were referring to is the Interlocal Agreement between the Sheriff and the county transferring the responsibility of jail operations to the Sheriff. It was signed on June 2, 2010 by Sheriff Nugent and the BOCC. Prior to the agreement, a private company, CCA, maintained jail operations. It was widely agreed upon that the private company was not providing sufficient service and the Sheriff’s Office could do a better job. The jail was in poor condition and the county placed $3 million into a fund for repairing the jail.

The interlocal agreement allows the Sheriff to accept dollars from other government entities in exchange for service, such as housing their inmates. The agreement states, “The Sheriff shall be authorized to enter into agreements for housing of inmates with other governmental entities for the purpose of generating additional revenues. Revenues from such contracts with third parties shall be allocated equally to the SHERIFF and the COUNTY for the operation of the jail in the manner provided for in Fla. Stat. Ch. 129.”

The county is under the impression that the agreement expired in 2013, but the sheriff’s office is not so so sure. The agreement says “This Interlocal Agreement shall become effective on August 27, 2010, and shall continue in full force and effect until September 30, 2013, or until terminated as provided for herein. Termination may occur upon mutual written consent. If this Interlocal Agreement is not terminated as provided herein, the Interlocal Agreement shall be extended on the same terms and conditions as herein provided, or as may be amended from time to time, all for an additional period of three (3) years.” So the agreement may have expired in 2013, 2016, or may still be in effect, depending on how you read the agreement.

Sheriff Al Nienhuis explains in a letter to the BOCC that he has transferred the approximately $2.2 million dollars in federal inmate housing earnings to a special revenue fund held by the Clerk of Circuit Court/Comptroller as instructed by the commission at the July 11th board meeting. He brings up several issues for the county to consider in relation to transferring Sheriff’s Office special revenue funds back to the county, the agreement between the Sheriff and County being one of them.

During Correspondence to Note discussion, Commissioner Allocco also expressed concern about the “expired MOU.” “We’ve been working under an expired MOU for awhile. It was even signed by previous Sheriff Nugent. I just want to make sure I understand whether or not this board wants to move forward into negotiation to update that MOU. I think it’s time for us to correct it and make sure we have a current Memorandum of Understanding,” said Commissioner Allocco.

County Attorney Jon Jouben is currently working with the Sheriff’s Office to revise the MOU. County Attorney Garth Coller explained that they will have a MOU ready for the beginning of the 2018 fiscal year, in order to better track when it lapses.

Commissioner Allocco said, “I just would like it to start. I don’t think we should wait to the new fiscal year.”

Although it was mentioned that the MOU is working well, Commissioner Allocco stated that he would like to have some clarity on what the funds will be used for in a new MOU.
“The original agreement… was well thought out. I thought the commission had a good understanding with the Sheriff and it worked well for years up until this hiccup. But I think we can get past this and have an agreement with the Sheriff… We can talk about the needs and upgrades, things we need to spend money on but when we get revenue in from the jail, I really believe it needs to be at the original agreement, where some of it goes to operations and some of it goes to capital improvement. ”

Champion proposed that they take out a loan with their AAA bond rating to fix the jail. “If it needs $8 million, borrow it and get it done.We have great credit, why not?”

Commissioner Holcomb was not in favor of “arbitrarily incurring debt” if they don’t need to and would like the staff at the jail to inform them of their needs.

Commissioner Allocco stated, that the MOU needs to be updated. “The Sheriff is asking for certain assurances, specifically what percentages are going to go where,” he said.

Allocco also mentioned that it is also important to clarify who holds the Inmate Welfare Fund and how it’s distributed, so they don’t run into a situation similar to the federal inmate money.

Commissioner Nicholson wasn’t in a rush to get the MOU updated and felt that it could wait for the new fiscal year. “It’s been four years, what’s the hurry?”

Although the current interlocal agreement does not stipulate how the Sheriff remits earnings to the county, Commissioner Nicholson stated that the BOCC does not have the authority to negate state law. “All of the funds, which there’s nine of them now… if all nine need to be returned to the county on a monthly basis, I think that’s what should happen. I don’t think the interlocal agreement should void that.”

In his letter, Sheriff Nienhuis additionally points out that if he is required to transfer certain funds to the county on a monthly basis, then the county will have to take over funding the services those funds support, such as school resource officers, school crossing guards, emergency dispatch fees, and inmate work squad (DPW). In regards to the interlocal agreement, he does call for “official consent to the temporary continuation of the current terms until new terms are established.”

Letter from Sheriff Al Nienhuis to Board of County Commissioners July 14, 2017

Al Nienhuis
Hernando County Sheriff’s Office

July 14, 2017

Honorable Chairman and Board Members Hernando County Board of County Commissioners

20 North Main Street, Room 460 Brooksville, FL 34601

Dear Chairman and Commissioners:

In response to the discussion at the Tuesday, July 11th Board meeting, I would like to advise you that all earnings received to date from the federal inmate housing program at the Hernando County Detention Center-$2,202,565-have today been transferred to a special revenue fund of the Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller. As was acknowledged at the Board meeting, the subsequent use of these monies is restricted as per the Interlocal Agreement between the Hernando County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and the Sheriff’s Office. Because this funding source is no longer readily available to the Sheriff’s Office, I am obligated to inform you of some associated issues.

Enclosed for your action is a preliminary amendment to the 2018 proposed Sheriff’s Office budget. This amendment reflects the minimum necessary changes regarding our requested funding directly related to federal inmate revenue. As presented at the budget Workshop of June 6, 2017, these items were originally shifted from the general fund to the alternate funding of federal inmate revenue. Analysis continues in order to provide a more comprehensive plan to meet the needs of the jail should the federal inmate housing program continue long-term.

Since responsibility for the jail facility is yours, and since you now have control of all the available capital improvement funds, I also wanted to share the enclosed list of current repair and refurbishment needs, as well as future expansion needs. This information should aid you in planning for the best use of the federal inmate revenue, as well as determining how much additional funding will be needed to ensure the safety and security of the jail and the community. I also remind you that the federal inmate housing program is being operated without a current agreement. Since we have just been informed by the County Attorney’s Office that an agreement will not be completed in the near-term, in order for us to continue operating the program and raising revenue for local taxpayers, we require official consent to the temporary continuation of the current terms until new terms are established.

In addition to the above information regarding the federal inmate housing program, there are two additional items I wish to clarify related to last Tuesday’s Board meeting. First, because of the apparent ongoing concern regarding Sheriff’s Office revenue, and in line with your wishes regarding the federal inmate funds, the Sheriff’s Office will be returning responsibility for all general fund contract revenue to County staff. This means that proceeds from existing and future contracts for school resource officers, school crossing guards, emergency dispatch fees, and inmate work squad (DPW) will need to be remitted to Board coffers. In addition, all other general fund revenue will now be returned on a monthly basis. This will effectively undo the BOCC budget resolution of March 27, 2012 which was generated by then-OMB Director George Zoettlein, acknowledged by Assistant County Attorney Jon Jouben, and signed off on by Chairman Wayne Dukes (see enclosed copy). As has been previously explained, all these processes were established at the request of County OMB staff but apparently no longer have the support of the BOCC. These changes also mean the associated expenses will henceforth be added to the requested budgets of the Sheriff’s Office since we can no longer depend on these incoming revenues.

Secondly, because of past criticism and somewhat muddled discussion at the recent meeting, I must ask you to confirm your support for the Sheriff’s Office continuing to maintain the following special revenue funds and forego monthly remittance:

• Inmate Welfare

• Child Saver Program Fund

• 800 MHZ

• Grants and Contributions Fund

• E9-1-1

• Federal Forfeitures

• Law Enforcement Education Fund.

These funds have heretofore been maintained by the Sheriff’s Office as a means to keep government small and save taxpayers money and/or at the express written request of County OMB staff. These funds do not involve BOCC appropriations, their use is restricted, and they are fully audited on an annual basis (presented to you annually on the consent agenda by the Clerk and available to the public via the Sheriff’s Office website). Therefore, this seems an appropriate arrangement. However, in light of recent developments, I feel I must seek your official endorsement of this process going forward to prevent further confusion or unfair criticism.

My Finance staff is already coordinating with the Office of the Clerk and Comptroller to work out the many details regarding these changes, and I await your response on the above pending issues.

It remains my desire to work with the BOCC in a positive and mutually-beneficial spirit of cooperation, one that doesn’t let mere administrative issues interfere with the important mission of serving and protecting the citizens of Hernando County. I once again reiterate that my staff and I are ready to move forward on the long-term collaborative planning and funding that will enable these responsibilities.

Al Nienhuis