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Mercer, Boyle Counties Look To Escape Jail Agreement

Mercer, Boyle In Talks To Terminate Interlocal Agreement

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Robert Moore
Herald Staff

Officials from Mercer and Boyle Counties are in negotiations to terminate the interlocal agreement between the two counties that runs Boyle County Detention Center. Judge-Executive Sarah Steele made the announcement at the meeting of the Mercer Fiscal Court meeting on Tuesday, July 25.

The interlocal agreement between the two counties was ratified in 1996 and has become a point of contention between the two counties in recent years. In 2018, the two counties renegotiated the agreement to allow Mercer to pay a share of expenses that matched their share of the inmate population. Mercer County pays 35 percent of jail expenses based on the county’s percentage of the inmate population.

In a 2020 interview with the Danville Advocate-Messenger, Boyle County Jailer Brian Wofford said the interlocal agreement violated Kentucky law and that he would no longer involved with the joint jail committee. Officials from both counties subsequently met with Rich Ornstein, a staff attorney for the Kentucky Association of Counties, who said “In my mind this interlocal agreement is lawful,” according to the Advocate. Both parties have to agree on ending the agreement. Officials from Mercer and Boyle are now in talks to end that partnership.

“We are negotiating a contract,” said Judge Steele Tuesday. She said the exit date would be June 30, 2024, the end of the current fiscal year.

Magistrate Kevin Hicks said Boyle wants Mercer to sign a contract allowing Boyle to continue housing Mercer’s prisoners or they won’t vote to end the contract.

“They’re kind of holding us under the gun,” Hicks said.

“We’re at their mercy,” noted Magistrate Stephen “Pete” Elliott. Elliott said Boyle gets three votes on the joint jail committee while Mercer gets only two. “Whatever they want, they get.”

County officials discussed drafting terms to add to the termination agreement.

County Attorney Ted Dean said there are two distinct negotiations: first to terminate the interlocal agreement and second to find a jail to house Mercer County’s inmate.

“If they want to throw us a proposal for housing inmates, I think the fiscal court should look at it,” Dean said. “We need to explore our options.”

Dean said it was premature to name any jail specifically, but said, “We’re looking at stuff that’s closer.”

One frustration with Mercer officials has been Boyle’s financial reporting. Judge Steele told the fiscal court Tuesday Mercer owes Boyle approximately $291,000, which includes $163,000 Boyle had previously refunded Mercer. Steele said new Mercer County Treasurer Christy Wheeler had spent a lot of time making sure the financial reports provided by Boyle were accurate. She said one bill went from $21,000 to over $80,000 over a period of a few months.

“That is the frustration we had,” Steele said. “It’s very mind-boggling.”

“We pay them $3,000 a month for their person to work this bill and then we have to send our treasurer over there to help her out,” said Magistrate Elliott.

“We feel it’s going to be better going forward,” Steele said.

For the rest of the story, check out this week’s edition of the Harrodsburg Herald. Click here to subscribe.

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