Possible shift of prisoners seen as concern for county by Tom Palmer

Posted: December 15, 2012 in News and politics

BARTOW | Polk County commissioners said Monday they plan to fight a proposal by state prison officials to send some prisoners with short sentences back to county jails.

“This is crazy,” said County Commission Chairwoman Melony Bell during a work session to go over issues in preparation for a meeting with the Polk legislative delegation next Monday.

According to a briefing paper prepared for commissioners by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, such a shift would require spending $20 million to increase the size of the county jail and spending an additional $7.5 million per year on operation and maintenance of the new facility.

Bell said she wondered if this had anything to do with Gov. Rick Scott’s push to privatize the state prison system.

Officials in other counties around the state also have reportedly criticized the proposal, which state officials have characterized as simply a possible cost-cutting scenario.

It was unclear at Monday’s meeting whether this proposal has any support among legislators, but commissioners made the issue one of their priorities because of its potential effect on local budgets.

Commissioners also plan to ask legislators for money to help with funding development of future water supplies and to help in meeting new water pollution regulations intended to reduce nutrients flowing into lakes and rivers.

The biggest water supply project involves a plan to build a pipeline from a new well field east of Frostproof to serve the water needs of the U.S. 27 corridor through 2050, said Gary Fries, Polk’s utilities director.

The estimated price tag for that project is $329.7 million, Fries said.

The cost will be split among the utilities using the line and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, whose budget is reviewed by officials in Tallahassee.

The price tag for dealing with water pollution is unknown.

In addition to those issues, commissioners also listed among their priorities perennial concerns, such as Medicaid funding and equitable funding of the takeover of driver license offices by county tax collectors.

In addition, commissioners will ask legislators to enforce the payment of 911 fees by prepaid phone services, which is costing Polk County thousands of dollars of per year and forcing officials to subsidize the service from general tax revenues.

Commissioners said they also want more flexibility in their ability to spend business tax revenue for economic development and want to make sure Florida officials are adequately funding Enterprise Florida.

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