Tulsa Jail: Funding to be re-examined

BY KEVIN CANFIELD

The Frontier

The Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority on Wednesday will consider changing the way funds for the Tulsa Jail are allocated.

The new allocation system would limit what funds the authority controls to the jail sales tax and any other monies earmarked for the authority, Tulsa County Fiscal Officer Tom Gerard said Monday.

“The goal is that every member (of the authority) feels completely confident that the sales tax and any other monies they have control over go to the specific jail operating functions that they want it to go to,” Gerard said.

At least two Criminal Justice Authority trustees, Sand Springs Mayor Mike Burdge and Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett, have expressed concern about what they see as the authority’s lack of oversight regarding jail spending.

Bartlett in particular has questioned whether the jail operating fund should be used to pay for such things as court guards, legal services and other expenses seemingly unrelated to the operation of the jail.

Gerard said the hope is to eliminate authority members’ concerns by letting them decide, with advice from legal counsel, what the jail tax would be used to fund.

This fiscal year, for example, the authority is expected to receive $35 million in funding, with $26.9 million coming from the quarter-cent sales tax.

Operation of the jail, meanwhile, is expected to cost more than $30 million.

“The goal is to tell them the whole (CJA) cost is $35 million and you have $27 million,” Gerard said. “So take your $27 million and spend it on what you feel comfortable with.

“If there is something you are not comfortable with … you just say ‘We are not paying for this.’ ”

Jared Brejcha, Bartlett’s chief of staff, said the city has not been involved in creating the new funding allocation system, but that it appears to be a step in the right direction.

“That sounds promising,” Brejcha said. “Confirming the appropriateness of expenses is very important from the mayor’s perspective.”

What could be more difficult to determine, Brejcha said, is what role the Criminal Justice Authority would have in overseeing the remaining funds needed to balance the jail budget.

“That still needs to be worked out,” Brejcha said.

Currently, more than 80 percent of the jail operating fund is comes from the jail sales tax, with the remainder of the funding coming from state, federal and city jail contracts and other revenue sources.

Historically, all of the money has been put together in the jail operating fund, with no distinction between the sales tax and other revenue.

“I always had a hard time with comingling of funds,” Burdge said. “There was really no way we could actually tell” what revenue was being spent on what.

The new system would provide more transparency and “also be better for accountability,” Burdge said.

Under the funding method to be discussed Wednesday, the sheriff (with oversight from the county Budget Board) would oversee the non-sales tax-related revenue. Should the jail fall short of needed revenues, it would be the county’s responsibility to cover the cost of services for which it is legally responsible, Gerard said.

County commissioner and Criminal Justice Authority Chairman Karen Keith said she has been encouraged by the response to the new allocation process.

“We just want to create a process where the Criminal Justice Authority has greater control over where the revenue is going in the running of the jail,” Keith said.

The Criminal Justice Authority is made up of four area mayors and all three Tulsa County commissioners.

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