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PETT interest not covering jail bond payments

County officials had planned to use the interest from the federal funds built up by the Payment Equal to Taxes from the Yucca Mountain project to pay off the bonds used for the new Nye County Detention Center when it was completed in October 2012.

But anyone with a savings account knows interest rates have plunged along with the slumping economy. While the county earned interest on the PETT endowment funds of $1.55 million in 2009, the interest dropped to $588,000 by 2011 and to a measly $144,000 in 2012. Annual payments on the jail bonds total $1.39 million and are due in biannual payments each February and August.

County Manager Pam Webster acknowledged they will have to dip into the principal of the endowment funds this year to pay off the bonds.

“The interest isn’t going to cover it because the interest has dropped considerably since we first made that plan,” Webster told the Pahrump Valley Times. “The good news I think is we could generate an additional revenue stream if we were able to rent those empty beds” in the jail.

The firm 3C Consultants has been preparing specifications for outside law enforcement agencies to rent beds at the detention facility, which had been the plan all along when the new $17 million jail was first proposed. But here’s the catch, more detention technicians will have to be hired, which would be a stretch when the sheriff’s office has already had to cut 25 positions due to budget cuts since 2006. Coincidentally, that’s the year that ballot question was passed by voters that would have provided the sheriff’s office and other emergency response agencies new funds through a half-cent sales tax increase.

A bribery scandal ended the politicking prematurely on approving the tax back then. But the issue was resurrected like Frankenstein this summer. But when it came up for a vote, however, it failed to get commission approval and died after a 2-3 vote.

A political fumble of sorts — the commission chairman couldn’t even say why he voted against it in August — the initiative was back for an encore performance this week.

Half of the proceeds would go to fund additional sheriff’s deputies, including detention technicians, the other half for county fire departments. But county officials like Sheriff Tony DeMeo, commission Chair Butch Borasky and Webster all denied the payoff on the jail bonds was tied to this latest push for the half-cent sales tax increase.

Nye County is working on getting a list published by the Federal Office of Detention Trustees so different federal agencies will know they have bed space available, said Assistant Sheriff Rick Marshall. The jail filled up quicker than expected, it can house 225 inmates, but already there are 170 local prisoners. The jail is so understaffed that often there is but one person manning a central control booth and only one other actually available to book inmates in and make rounds checking on prisoners.

Marshall said when a local judge knows there is a facility available, they are less likely to release defendants on their own recognizance part of the reason the jail filled up quicker than expected. He said there will be safeguards for any outside prisoners.

“A lot of people think they can send us the worst of the worst. We can make a determination what we will accept. They can’t just dump prisoners here like a lot of people assume,” he said.

Webster said the county has to demonstrate an ability to staff the jail to service additional prisoners. There are also different requirements for federal prisoners, which Marshall said was one of the issues. But he added, “we’ve got most of the issues worked out except the staffing.”

Corrections Corporation of America opened the Nevada Southern Detention Facility on East Mesquite Avenue in November 2010, which houses up to 1,500 defendants awaiting trial in federal courts.

The sheriff said space has been filling up at the iron bars hotel. DeMeo said when he first ran for sheriff in 2002, people thought a 110-bed jail would be enough.

County officials want the sheriff’s department to move all the inmates from Tonopah to Pahrump, the sheriff said. But he complained the county commission hasn’t sat down and discussed the plans with him.

“They made Tonopah a branch jail. That is giving me some concern. If they engage in a contract and lock in certain numbers, what are we going to do with a prison overflow? Pahrump is going to grow again and Nye County is going to grow again. Up north is very busy,” DeMeo said.

Previously an outside agency looked at housing their prisoners at the new Pahrump jail but they had concerns over whether the county had adequate manpower, DeMeo said. At the time, when the jail was under construction, Nye County was offering its employees early retirement buyouts, the sheriff said.

“When the jail was under construction, we were looking at manpower. We found out there wasn’t any hiring. I moved some positions from patrol to detention. We didn’t know what the bed space was going to be,” DeMeo said. “That’s how they were pushing the half-cent sales tax, so we would have more people in detention.”

DeMeo said the county plans to do a reorganization of employees this fiscal year to bring the budget in the black. But with less than 70 weeks left until the end of his term, Dec. 31, 2014, the sheriff said, “apparently they’re going to reorganize the sheriff’s department without me being involved.”

The terms of the bed space rentals, like the charge for bed space, have not been worked out, according to sheriff’s department officials.

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