By Gary Nelson
Senior staff writer
Commissioners on the Cumberland County Budget Committee have requested a legal opinion about collecting fees from juveniles after they are charged and held in the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department juvenile office.
"My understanding is that we were collecting fees before, but it stopped and we are no longer collecting fees. When did it stop and who stopped collecting them?" Carmin Lynch, 9th District commissioner and Budget Committee Chairman asked.
The subject arose during last month's budget committee meeting and commissioners requested to hear from General Sessions Judge Larry Warner about the matter.
The subject also was brought up after there were three separate bills for housing a juvenile in Putnam County, one for $450 for three days of housing; one for $4,650 for 31 days of housing; and one for $3,150 for 21 days of housing.
The rate of housing a juvenile in the facility in Putnam County is $150 per day. The total was $8,250. There is no long-term facility for housing juveniles in Cumberland County.
"We're getting hit with bills like this and we aren't collecting anything here? Something ain't right about that," said 7th District Commissioner Mike Harvel.
In the March budget committee meeting, Judge Warner attended and talked with the committee about collecting fees.
"When did the county stop collecting the juvenile boarding fees?" Lynch asked.
"Sept. 1, 2006, when I took office," Warner said.
"The law permits we collect fees, so I'm not sure why we stopped," Lynch said.
"We were collecting fees on juveniles, but we don't collect on adults. Adults don't pay — that could set us up for a problem — so I stopped collecting the fees when I took over," Warner said.
"We have the authority, but if there's a liability, maybe we should talk to the county lawyer," Lynch said.
"A lot of them won't pay us. About 70 percent of the court costs are not paid. It's hard to collect," Warner said.
"I know. We've been fighting this for years. We're trying to make as much revenue as we can, wherever we can. It's a shame because the good things are getting eaten up by the criminals. They didn't make these laws for the good people," Harvel said.
"I think we need to hear from the county attorney. It's tough to defend to the taxpayer a multi-million dollar expansion and we can't collect fees," Lynch said.
"Yeah, but we have a house full over there (at the jail) that aren't breaking into your house tonight," Warner said.
"Look for it to be a cold day when I vote to expand the jail or Justice Center again," Lynch said.
"The jail isn't there to make money. Maybe the county should have built a Wal-Mart or a store if you wanted to make money," Warner said.
"I think your gripe ought to be with the state and not take it out on the local judge," Mayor Kenneth Carey Jr. said.
The committee then agreed to have county attorney Randal Boston research the matter of collecting fees for juveniles and adult prisoners and report his findings back to the committee.