Baxter County, Ark., waives jail fees for cities

BAXTER COUNTY, Ark. -- If you were convicted of a traffic violation or a misdemeanor offense in Mountain Home, you would have to pay a $20 fee.

"That also was supplemented by what's called criminal justice fees that come from Baxter County District Court to our department to be used any way for criminal justice," said Mountain Home Police Chief Carry Manuel.

The combination of the revenue from the criminal justice fees and the $20 fee goes toward paying off the city's jail fee to the county for housing its prisoners, which was $50 per inmate per day.

Which can add up.

"The jail expense for us would run anywhere from $35,000-$45,000 per year," Manuel said.

But the county passed a sales tax to help maintain and expand the jail.

"Part of the deal about passing that sales tax is we would stop billing the city for housing prisoners because they're paying taxes just like everybody else," said Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery.

So Baxter County leaders recently passed an ordinance saying cities will no longer have to pay those jail fees.

Now that money the cities would've put toward the jail fees can go toward something else. The city of Mountain Home alone is saving thousands of dollars.

"The criminal justice fee will not be needed anymore for the jail expenses, and that amounts to somewhere around $13,000 per year. That is really the only true money that can be shifted from the prisoner expenses, to be used somewhere else in criminal justice," Manuel said.

The police chief said he's going to ask the city council to roll back the fee people who are convicted of a traffic violation or misdemeanor have to pay from $20 to $5. That $5 has to go toward specific police expenses like handcuffs, partitions and bars on police car windows.

The Baxter County sheriff said ultimately it's a win-win for the cities and the county.

"Take some burden off of us because we no longer have to sit down and figure every person in the building, and what city, and how much to bill, and how many days they were in," Montgomery said.

The sheriff said the ordinance is retroactive to July 1, since that's when the jail started using the sales tax.

Cities did not have to pay jail fees for people who were convicted of felonies anyway.

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