Top Kentucky elected officials say a measure could remedy the costly issue of elected county jailers who have no jails to run—slashing their pay scales.
The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting recently revealed that the state has 41 elected jailers in counties where the local jail had been consolidated with neighboring jurisdictions. The offices of the state’s 41-no-jail jailers cost taxpayers about $2 million annually.
Kentucky is the only state that elects jailers; most states put county jails under the jurisdiction of county sheriffs. But jailers in Kentucky hold a constitutionally established position—eliminating the jailers’ offices would require a constitutional amendment, or legislators could merge the jailer offices’ with county sheriffs’.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said an alternative would be for the state legislature to limit the amount local governments can pay no-jail jailers.
Speaking during Tuesday’s opening of the 2015 legislative session, Stumbo said he’d favor adjusting the salary rates for jailers, which are not guaranteed in the state constitution. Such a move would give local governments flexibility in setting pay rates for county jailers, said Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat and former state attorney general.
“It’s their money if they want to pay somebody for doing nothing, I guess the taxpayers in their district can talk to them about that but it needs to be addressed,” Stumbo said.
The KyCIR reported that some no-jail jailers perform duties such as transporting arrestees to regional jails. Jailers who don’t have a jail to operate are paid salaries set by their fiscal courts within a state-approved range, between $20,000 and $70,398
Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said he agrees with Stumbo that in order to achieve a practical legislative solution to the problem, lawmakers would need to change the jailers’ pay scale and not their office.
“If it is accurate that certain jailers have no duties, no obligations, and are performing no functions for the county, we need to look at that scaled salary that, I think, was done in the Patton administration,” Stivers said.
Like Stumbo, Stivers said such a move would give county leaders the authority to set pay for no-jail jailers that is commensurate with the work they perform.
State Sen. Joe Bowen, a Republican from Owensboro, said he thinks there is “significant concern” among legislators about jailers who don’t have jails to run.
“In this day of budget constraints, I think we’re all very vigilant about inefficiencies, (and) about being good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars,” Bowen said.
Bowen said he assumes the state and local government committee—which he chairs—will see legislation addressing the issue.
“I haven’t seen any legislation at this point, but my hunch is that there will be,” Bowen said. “I think, being the party of fiscal responsibility, that it’s something we’d take a look at.”
The main challenge to addressing the issue, Bowen said, will be the time crunch during a short 30-day legislative session. For that reason, he said, the issue may be one that legislators will want to consider after the session ends, and perhaps hold hearings before next year’s 60-day session begins.
But further reaching proposals could also be in the works.
State Rep. Phil Moffett, Republican of Louisville newly sworn in on Tuesday, said he’s asked for a bill to be drafted that would combine the offices of jailer and sheriff in counties that do not have an operating local jail.
Moffett said he was not aware of the no-jail jailer issue until KyCIR reported it, and that he’s since heard a “lot of verbal support” for legislation to eliminate jailers in counties without functioning local jails.
Moffett said he is a fiscal conservative and the idea of merger makes good business and financial sense.
The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting’s R.G. Dunlop contributed to this story.