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County Seeks to Increase Jail Booking Fees : Revenue: City officials are surprised at the move to charge them more. One says it "would make my city a little less safe."

August 05, 1994|KEVIN JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Orange County officials are proposing an 11% increase in booking fees at the county jail system. That boost could force cities to pay thousands of dollars more each year to house inmates at any of the five county detention centers.

Long a point of friction between the county and cities, the fees would jump from $158 to $176 a prisoner if the proposed increase is approved by the Board of Supervisors.

The planned increase took some municipal officials by surprise Thursday, with many saying they had not been told it was being considered.

Perhaps the strongest voice against an increase came from Garden Grove Police Chief Stanley L. Knee, who said that more expensive charges "would make my city a little less safe."

Knee estimated that his officers already are forced to issue citations and then release about 1,000 suspects a year because of "prohibitive" booking costs. Many of those arrested, the chief said, could have "benefited from some time in jail to cool off."

"I have to question whether this is a good decision," Knee said. "But in this climate, you hold a person for a couple of hours and he walks out the front door" of police headquarters.

Garden Grove now pays the county about $300,000 a year to detain prisoners at county jail facilities. If the new charges are approved, the city would pay nearly $36,000 more each year. That is more than half the average salary of an officer in the department.

Chris Moulson, manager of law enforcement contracts for the Sheriff's Department, described the proposal as "fairly routine" because there had been no increase in the past two years.

"With any kind of fee increase, you are looking at recovering the costs you incur," Moulson said. "I'm sure this is an assessment of the fact that salaries have increased during the past two years and other related costs have gone up."

County budget officials could not be reached for comment Thursday, but statistics provided by the auditor-controller's office show that booking revenue has dropped in the past three years, from $2.7 million in 1991-92 to $2.2 million in 1993-94.

At least part of that drop can be attributed to the fact that some cities have built their own jails or have signed less expensive contracts for prisoner detention with other agencies.

Santa Ana probably did the most of any city to reduce its booking payments when it opened its own 72-bed jail last December.

Last year, Santa Ana paid about $1 million to book its prisoners into county detention facilities. This year, Lt. Robert Helton said, that payment should be cut by 90% or more.

"If we didn't have that jail, this new fee would really impact us," Helton said. "That's a substantial increase."

Daryl Halls, manager of legislation and policy development for the Orange County Division of the League of California Cities, said his office had not been notified of the county's plan.

"This is the first we've heard about it," Halls said. "We've been opposed to a booking fee from the start. Obviously, the cities would be against any increase."

Halls said the proposal comes at a time when local governments are scrambling to balance their own budgets and cannot afford to consider further assessments.

"I know the sheriff does a good job of managing the jail," Knee said, "but the issue is that we're paying for a service that we have absolutely no control over. We don't have any say about how the jail is run or how many officers are on duty. We have no control over the factors that could drive up the cost of housing them there."

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