Friday, December 30, 2016
County Executive Dennis Levinson forewarned residents several months ago of the high cost of state-mandated bail reform with increases in staff, health benefits, building operations, overtime and more. But Levinson said the county has worked diligently to reduce the projected cost to taxpayers.
"With the cooperation of the county prosecutor and sheriff we have been able to trim costs," stated Levinson, "but it still leaves our taxpayers on the hook for an additional $800,000 in expenses for legislation that we do not feel is needed."
According to Levinson, the prosecutor will hire seven new employees while the sheriff will add three new positions as a direct consequence of the bail reform mandate. Additional computers, software, office furniture and supplies are also needed.
The Bail Reform/Speedy Trial Act was passed following the voters approval in November 2014 of an amendment to the state Constitution. It is designed to reduce daily populations at county jails and make the bail process more equitable by requiring any person arrested on a new warrant after January 1, 2017 to have a hearing within 48 hours, including weekends.
"A number of counties, like Atlantic County, have already been successful in reducing daily populations and associated costs at their jails through cooperation among jail administrators, the courts, and law enforcement in using various release measures and tracking systems," said Levinson.
In Atlantic County the average daily population at the county jail is down about 40 percent, from 1,200 several years ago to a current average of 700.
In addition to the cost of bail reform in Atlantic County, Levinson noted that taxpayers will also contribute to $9.3 million in state costs for 20 more judges with benefits, staff, etc. at a time when they can least afford it.
"Keep in mind that we continue to refund Atlantic City for its over assessments of casinos prior to the PILOT. In 2017 that refund will amount to $13 million bringing the total refund since 2010 to $57 million paid by county taxpayers," explained Levinson, "all of which makes our budgeting efforts extremely difficult."
"I want our taxpayers to fully understand the reasons for any increases in their tax bills," he said. "Too often the county gets incorrectly blamed for costs we did not create. And this so-called bail reform can now be counted among them."