By Michael Howell
Copies of the final draft of the county’s budget for FY 2012 are now available for public scrutiny at the county administration building and on the county’s website www.ravallicounty.mt.gov. The public will have about two weeks to review the draft before a meeting is held to consider final adoption.
J.R. Iman, Chairman of the Ravalli County Board of Commissioners, said that one thing notable about the budget is that no one is being hired.
Another notable aspect of the draft budget is the planned closing the county’s Juvenile Detention Center on November 1, 2011.
The county came under pressure last summer when state officials notified them that they were not in compliance with state law as far as staffing requirements at the Juvenile Detention Center. The commissioners were told they needed to hire another employee to meet the staffing requirements. Iman stated at the time that the county could not afford to hire another employee and would have to consider closing the facility if the law was going to be enforced.
In budget discussions last Wednesday and Thursday, the commissioners decided to do just that and to do it by November of this year.
Iman said that, since the meeting with the state last summer, the commission has been working with the Missoula Juvenile Detention Center to determine the costs involved in using that facility. He said closing the facility in this county and using Missoula’s would be a significant savings in cost, from $95,000 to $100,000 the first year and $160,000 to $170,000 the second year.
Iman said that ten or twelve years ago with only a few juvenile detention centers in the state, juveniles were being taken to Deer Lodge and Kalispell. The state began encouraging and helping in the establishment of many facilities around the state. Missoula and Ravalli County both got juvenile detention facilities as did many other communities in the state.
“Now there’s a bunch of facilities and most of them are underutilized,” said Iman.
He said the county’s facility has five beds, possibly six if a bed in the common area is used. He said a seventh could be accommodated on a very short term emergency basis. The average bed use in the facility is two. He said Missoula’s facility has 24 beds and averages six to seven in use.
Iman said that video conferencing was available in Missoula and could be used by parents who don’t want to or can’t drive to Missoula. He said some transport would be inevitable since judges in Ravalli County have insisted on face to face dealings with juveniles and refuse to operate by video in those cases.