Much of that worry seemed to stem from a report presented to the Lumpkin County Board of Commissioners last month, by Sheriff Stacy Jarrard which listed the city as being responsible for $336,430 worth of inmate housing fees over a four-year period.
It was a number that City Attorney Doug Parks said was several hundred thousand dollars too high.
“That number has a devastating impact on us when you see that,” he said to Jarrard as they discussed the matter during a Thursday city work session
The actual number, Parks said, was reached after a week’s worth of case-by-case research and would round out to about $7,000.
Jarrard responded by saying that he was only attempting to keep Dahlonega in line with other cities which pay for such services.
Currently would-be-inmates that are arrested within the city limits for misdemeanor offenses go to Dahlonega’s municipal court. If they are sentenced to serve time they go to the local detention center and the county picks up the tab from there.
It’s a practice that’s unfair, Jarrard said.
“When someone is arrested within the city and that charge goes to municipal court, the revenue, fines and court costs come to the city budget,” he said.
Jarrard added the $300,000 figure represented the total of inmates arrested within the city over an extended time period and was meant only to serve as an example.
“I was not coming back to bill you for that,” he said.
Instead the county wants a $35 a day allotment for each inmate sentenced by the municipal court, along with payment for medical insurance coverage and additional transportation-related fees.
Last week the city council received a copy of a strongly worded county contract offer that included an apparent deadline of October 1.
“If this contract is terminated, it will be the responsibility of the City of Dahlonega to relocate, house and transport their inmates to alternate and suitable locations,” stated the letter.
It was a line that irked some city officials.
“You’re our police, so to speak, in the city,” said Mayor Gary McCullough to Jarrard. “So if we don’t pay you, you’re not going to arrest somebody?”
Jarrard said the details of any potential city/county contract are not LCSO business.
“I’m looking out for the interest of the sheriff’s office, that’s what I’m looking out for,” he said.
County attorney K.C. Horne said he drew up the contract at the request of the sheriff using the Georgia Sheriffs Association recommendations as a model.
It was a proposal that was met by outright laughs by some city officials. In particular, Parks said he took offense with a clause that asked that the city take responsibility and for “subsequent incarceration for any person for any reason associated with the original charge.”
“They want us to be responsible for anybody that might be directly or indirectly somehow associated for something that might occur inside the city,” he said to chuckles from the council.
Horne said that clause was meant to protect the county from having to pay for probation violators that were originally sentenced by the city.
“The sheriff does not want the burden to go anywhere except on the court that created the sentence,” he said.
Parks argued that this was unfair since the city would “have no control over the case” after the initial arrest.
“If any of those people who might be associated with anybody who does something wrong in the city even in the future comes out with a probation violation we have responsibility for them,” he said.
On Monday, Parks released an alternate proposal in which the city would pay the requested $35 a day for each inmate “actually, not hypothetically” sentenced in municipal court.
“In summary, there is really no problem,” read the letter. “Definitely not a [$300,00] problem as was originally presented. More like a [$7,000] issue on an annual average.”
Yet, during Thursday’s meeting, some council members said they felt city residents were already paying the fee through their county taxes.
“I’m confused,” said council member Ralph Prescott. “If the county people pay taxes and somebody gets arrested would they not put them in jail without paying an additional fee?... I’m paying taxes in the county.”
The issue will be up for discusion at next month’s city council meeting.