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Report details benefits of jail commissary

July 27, 2011
The Crawford County Council, at its regular monthly meeting on July 12, was paid a visit by Crawford County Sheriff Tim Wilkerson and Chief Deputy Shawn Scott to report to the council on purchases the sheriff's department had made using money raised through the jail commissary by selling toiletries, candy and other snacks to prisoners.

The sheriff presented council members with lists of purchases for the last three years, beginning in 2009 and including the first six months of 2011. The lists were extensive, and many of the purchases included items that the county would normally have to pay for. For instance, in 2010, the sheriff purchased four patrol cars from Floyd County for $14,000 and a Chevy Tahoe for $14,282. Then, a few months later, the department purchased two more cars and a Ford Explorer from Floyd County for $12,000, all with commissary funds. That same year, more than $9,000 was used for new computers and printers for the sheriff's department and another $9,000 was used for vehicle maintenance. Commissary money was also used for training and academy supplies, K-9 expenses, educational materials, uniforms, officer supplies and other items. The total for the year was $67,118.88.

"Well, it looks like you're saving us some money," said Sharon Wilson, who serves on the council.

"I think I've been a good steward of the commissary money," Wilkerson replied. "I've been able to put the funds to good use but nothing frivolous. I'm not here to pat myself on the back, but this has saved the county a lot of money."

In 2009, Wilkerson used the funds to pay for the department's auto repair and maintenance, uniforms, training and other needs for a total of $25,563.57. And so far in 2011, the sheriff has used the funds to rework the jail floors at a cost of $1,551.80, and used inmate labor for the job, and spent almost $1,000 on new uniforms and paid for office supplies, auto maintenance, K-9 expenses, inmate supplies and other expenses for a total of $8,412.23.

"It's amazing that all this money came from potato chips and candy bars," Wilson said.

A large percentage of the money raised in the jail's commissary came from Indiana Department of Correction prisoners, whom the county began housing at the jail after Wilkerson was elected sheriff. For the first two or three years, the state housed up to 80 inmates at the jail. But those numbers are down this year due to several programs the state has developed for the inmates. But, Wilkerson said, many of those programs will end eventually and the number of inmates housed at county facilities should increase.

"I'm down to about 30 DOC inmates right now," Wilkerson said. "If I get up to 80 again, I could do more. I don't want to be seen — and I don't want you to be seen — as hungry for DOC money, but, if not for the DOC money, you'd probably be pointing at me and saying, 'You're spending too much money'."

Wilkerson and Scott then talked about the county setting aside 1 percent of its budget each year in order to build up a reserve fund for the future purchase of patrol cars.

"The cars we bought from Floyd County had 80,000 to 90,000 miles on them," Wilkerson said. " And we're happy with 2006 cars with 80,000 miles. But in about a year, we'll have to start spending money on them. And it becomes a safety factor when cars get a lot of miles on them; things wear out."

"We just need good, safe cars, not brand-new cars," Scott added. "When my dad (Richard Scott) was sheriff, he bought two cars. He paid half of the cost and the county paid for the other half. And with the DOC money down, we may have a shortfall in the next year or so."

Scott went on to say that was the reason for the idea of setting aside money for cars early, in case of a shortage of funds when the cars are needed.

"We're just looking ahead," Wilkerson said. "We have to have vehicles, and we need safe ones. And I'd be happy to contribute, too."

"Looks like we need to start looking for a couple of cars," said Council President Jerry Brewer. "We could probably use some riverboat money for them. If you find a good deal, we'll buy a couple. As far as the 1 percent escrow, I don't see why we can't have one. Other county agencies have one, and it would be nice to have the security of an escrow account. It's actually the first time anyone has brought it up. Tim's done a good job."

"We really appreciate all you've done," added Councilman Bill Breeding.

Two representatives from the Crawford County United Ministries, Deb Reichenbach and Laura Zipp, appealed to the council for help with needs of the organization, including a laptop computer, file cabinet, telephone service and gas expenses for volunteers who transport food for its food bank.

The group operates a food bank at Leavenworth and also has an assistance program for people in need.

"Our income has dwindled, yet our expenses have increased," Reichenbach said. "And the needs have increased tremendously now."

Zipp said that the food bank is holding its own because much of the food is donated.

"But it's our assistance program that is struggling," she said. "People need help with paying their water bills and other utilities and for rent assistance. A lot of people show up every week asking for help. We help some, what we can. And we call pastors at other churches to help out, but they can only help so much, as well."

But if the agency spends what it get in donations for the programs, it leaves little for other needs, like office supplies and mileage for volunteers.

"If what we're asking for is too much, we'll take what you'll give us," Zipp told the council.

"We'll have to get our attorney to look at it," Brewer said.

Brewer also said that Marcus Burgher IV, the council's attorney, was on vacation and any action on the request would have to be considered at a later date.

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