Sunday, January 3, 2010

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XLV): Bashing the feds on the front page?

The big headline in the December 24 issue of the Newton County Times is "Additional funding sought for jail construction." I've written about the county's jail quandaries here, here, and here. But what was especially interesting to me about this story is not just the detail about how Newton County may finally get a new jail (they've raised $1.5 million from the sale of bonds after last year's sales tax election), but some serious editorializing in the midst of this front-page story.

The story reports on a recent meeting between local officials, the architects for the new jail, USDA Rural Development officials, and staff members of the area's U.S. Congressman. The USDA Rural Development officials reportedly explained that the county is eligible to receive a direct $100,000 construction grant or it could apply for federal stimulus money for 35% of the cost of the project, with a $200,000 maximum. The next section of the story reads:
The stimulus funds come with a lot of red tape and paperwork, however.

Stimulus legislation includes a little-known provision that some critics contend wastes tax dollars and costs jobs. All $188 billion worth of construction projects funded in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (H.R.1) must pay Davis-Bacon prevailing wage rates. This requirement, critics contend, inflate construction costs and depress the economy.
The next paragraph explains details of the Davis-Bacon Act. Both of these paragraphs strike me as boilerplate copied from a conservative publication. They strike me as especially odd--even out of place--given that this tiny, local paper typically features so little in depth reporting on anything, including such national context for local happenings. News analysis is hardly ever seen in the paper.

Finally, the story comes back to a local angle, with a paraphrase of the county judge (chief administrator for county, an elected official) commenting that his experience with receipt of federal stimulus money has been negative. In particular, he notes the costs involved "just in daily reporting of expenditures."

Currently, with the $100,000 USDA Rural Development grant and another $70,000 grant from an unnamed source, $1.67 million of the $2 million price tag is available. As a consequence of the short fall, the project is being scaled back to include only 6,296 square feet, including an outdoor exercise yard. It will have six cells with double bunks, and it will have separate spaces for male and female prisoners. The facility will also have the capacity to separate felony and misdemeanor prisoners. While laundry and food service facilities will be on site, the sheriff will not have administrative officers there.

Since the jail closed in the summer of 2009, the county has paid neighboring counties about $30/day per prisoner to house Newton County's prisoners in their jails.

1 comment:

olp09 said...

There is a lot talk regarding ARRA funding that reminds me of "keep the government's hands off my Medicare." I hear people in the Ozarks condemning "wasteful" stimulus funding and stating that what the federal government needs to do, instead, is resurrect the WPA and the CCC. The construction of public improvements through the ARRA is probably faster and more efficient than setting up a WPA-like bureaucracy and a quasi-military organization like the CCC.

The economic importance of jail and courthouse facilities in rural counties has many dimensions. The people who are involved in family law, domestic abuse (aggressors and victims) and rural crime together support another class--lawyers, judges, courthouse employees, social workers and law enforcement personnel. The amount of money involved, which comes from the underclass and tax revenues, is significant in counties without substantial industrial or commercial activity.

It would make sense to reduce the family and substance abuse pathologies that result in all this courthouse business and the need for bigger and better jails. But I don't know how to get there from here.