Through February of 2013 the county has already spent as much on housing youths in juvenile detention centers as it did during the last two years combined.
And because of an arbitrary decision made decades ago, County Finance Director Charles Nichols said that the Department of Social Services Budget is unduly affected by the increased expense.
“(The county commissioners) stuck the juvenile detention line item in the DSS budget decades ago, and (for convenience) it has been left there,” Nichols said.
Through the current month, the county has spent $65,514 on juvenile detention for the 2012-13 fiscal year. Last year $27,694 was spent for the entire year on juvenile detention. In 2011, $16,000 was spent.
For the current fiscal year only $20,000 was actually budgeted for juvenile detention, and with costs on pace to exceed that figure by at least three times, DSS will likely appear overbudget at year’s end.
“We are the only county I know of where (juvenile detention) appears in the DSS budget,” said DSS Director Robby Hall.
As of the month of January there were nine youths placed in the Richmond County-based juvenile detention center by Scotland County.
“It’s very unusual to put that many there at one time,” Hall said. “And two of the children are in at one time for serious crimes,” added Hall. Because of the serious nature of their crimes, they are less likely to be eligible for early release.
Juvenile detention costs are paid for entirely by local money, according to County Manager Kevin Patterson. There is no relief available at the state or federal level to offset the yearly costs.
While DSS is not forced to find funds for juvenile detention in their budget, the costs are stressing what was already a tight county budget, Nichols said.
“We spent five thousand a month (on juvenile detention) at the beginning of this year, then all of a sudden it jumped to eight thousand in October and nine in November. And the past two months it has been $16,500 and $12,200. You could see how it is nearly impossible to budget.”
As the county commissioners set about designing a budget for next year, they will face the challenge of coming up with a figure for the next year’s juvenile detention costs. Because of how erratic it has been during the current year, the commissioners could consider moving the item out of the DSS budget, Nichols said.
“When you can have one line item bust the budget wide open, that’s scary.”