The Fayette Citizen-News Page

Wednesday, November 14, 2001

F'ville, county to talk jail fees again


Fayette County and Fayetteville officials hope to set a second meeting this week, and said they are "encouraged" following a meeting last week to negotiate a solution to their disagreement over fees for use of the County Jail.

"I would describe it as a productive meeting," said County Commission Chairman Greg Dunn.

"I would agree," said Fayetteville City Manager Joe Morton. "There was certainly some positive direction."

Leaders are hoping to hammer out a new agreement for housing municipal prisoners those sentenced by the municipal courts, an issue that has had Fayette and its three largest cities deadlocked throughout 2001.

"We're getting together some data" for a meeting this week, said Morton. "We're trying to get this thing off dead center."

Last January, the County Commission notified Fayetteville, Peachtree City and Tyrone that its 1994 agreement to house city prisoners those sentenced by the municipal court for violating city ordinances would expire in December, and the county did not intend to renew the pact. A new agreement would have to be reached.

Lack of a per diem charge for housing the city prisoners was the sticking point. City leaders argue that their residents pay the bulk of property taxes for maintenance of the jail, and charging per diem fees would amount to making their residents pay twice for the same service.

County leaders say that taxes paid for the jail provide only enough money to house prisoners sentenced by State, Superior and Magistrate courts, but additional fees are needed to keep the jail from being overfilled with minor offenders.

"We don't want to turn around like Fulton County did, and have to say we're not taking anymore municipal prisoners ... build your own jail," Dunn said. "We don't want to get to that point."

The heated disagreement in late 2000/early 2001 resulted in the scuttling of plans for impact fees to help pay construction costs of the county's new jail, now under construction. The cities would not agree to charge the fees within their borders without language in the agreement guaranteeing space for city prisoners.

Following the county's cancellation of the 1994 agreement, leaders in Fayetteville, Peachtree City and Tyrone had asked for a joint meeting. But, citing several recent meetings that have degenerated into rancor, county officials have been adamant that they would meet with only one city at a time to discuss the dispute.

The dispute is part of a larger issue that is being hashed out in court, the cities' claim that their residents pay more in taxes than they receive in services from the county, thus subsidizing taxes for residents of unincorporated Fayette. A visiting judge ruled last week that the cities' request for mandatory mediation of that dispute should go forward, and he is expected to appoint a mediator soon (see related story).

On the jail issue, Dunn said the county and Fayetteville plan to meet again in the near future to try to hammer out an agreement.

"They gave us some things to think about, and we gave them some things to think about," he said of last week's discussion. Present were Mayor Kenneth Steele, City Attorney David Winkle and City Manager Morton for Fayetteville. Representing the county were Dunn, County Manager Chris Cofty and County Attorney Bill McNally.

While Fayette and Fayetteville negotiate, Peachtree City and Tyrone wait in the wings. "We're not speaking on behalf of the other cities," Morton pointed out.