While the reduction is a good thing, the board did use a loose interpretation of state laws to calculate the new rate.
Regional Jail Authority director Joe DeLong said under state code, the jail authority is supposed to take its yearly estimated operating costs and divide it by the average number of inmates from the prior year to come up with the per diem rate.
But DeLong said that formula presents two problems.
The first is that it does not account for growth in the jail population. Over the 2012 budget year, regional jails averaged over 4,600 inmates. Today, population totals are pushing 5,000.
Also, the formula does not take into account millions of dollars in revenue jails receive through commissary and other operations, as well as court fees collected from various counties.
DeLong said if the board strictly followed formula explained in statute, instead of lowering rates to $48.25, they would have had to raise the rate sharply to $51.62.
Not only would that be bad for counties and give the authority far more revenue than it needs, but DeLong said the surplus revenue would also violate other state laws limiting how much excess revenue the authority is allowed to keep.
"I don't see any reason for us to be building up cash reserves that, quite frankly, we are not supposed to have and that we don't need," he said.
DeLong said jail officials were "intentionally conservative" in crafting the new rate. While they included all of the other revenue to craft the formula, they still used prior year inmate totals to craft the rate.
With growing population and other cost-saving programs currently under way, DeLong said he believed the authority could lower the rate again next year.
"I really believe we're really going to be sitting in a room similar to this a year from now and that 55 cents per day reduction is going to be more as we continue in our efforts," he said.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.h...@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148.