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County, Rincon to work on inmate work crew deal
Corbitt Wesley
Rincon City Manager Wesley Corbitt

Rincon City Council and Effingham County commissioners are trying to finalize an agreement that will provide an inmate work crew for the city.

Council members approved a contract with the county by a 4-1 vote, pending the resolution of several questions. Commissioners, who had concerns of their own, voted to table the pact until their July 21 meeting.

“Rincon has a few concerns we don’t have solidified,” said County Administrator Toss Allen, who suggested commissioners table the item until the issues are straightened out. “We can set an effective date of Aug. 1, but that won’t be enough time to hire someone.”

Said Rincon Mayor Ken Lee: “I think it’s a good idea. We can get a lot accomplished. Everybody just has a lot of ‘what if’ questions.”

If both sides reach agreement, the city will pay the county $46,000 a year for the cost of a Peace Officer Standards and Training-certified guard. The county will provide an inmate work crew of eight to 12 from the county prison for the city’s use. The city will provide the vehicle and fuel to take the crew to and from the prison each day.

Among Rincon’s concerns are whether the guard will be covered by the city’s insurance policy to drive a city van, how the county will provide another officer in case the contracted guard surpasses 15 days of vacation or sick leave, immunity for the county and what constitutes a rain day. The city and the county also questioned how each side can put an “out” into the contract. Rincon council members also wondered if they would be bound to the deal for a year.

The contract proposed by the county is based on a similar agreement with Bryan County.

City Manger Wesley Corbitt said the work crew, which will be performing work tasked by the city’s public works department, can be a plus.

“We can catch up on a lot of projects,” he said. “What we will accomplish will be huge. There’s a lot of work that 12 guys could turn upside down.”

Other council members agreed that the city has enough work to warrant the use of an inmate work crew.

“We’ve got enough stuff we can find things from them to do,” said council member Scott Morgan.

Added council member Levi Scott: “The crews going out is not new. If we felt an individual was not doing his work, we’d call them and they’d take him back. As far as getting your money’s worth, I don’t think it’s anything we need to be worrying about.”

Rincon public works director Tim Bowles said the crews will be involved in work such as easements and clearing out ditches. The city will provide the tools for the crew to use.

“I’m looking for them to use chain saws in ditch easements,” he said.

County commissioners approved a capacity agreement with the state Department of Corrections on the Effingham County Prison, allowing for a maximum of 192 prisoners. But the state is cutting the number of minimum-security inmates at the facility to 30-35, Allen explained, bringing about the need for a POST-certified officer to accompany a new crew. Minimum security prisoners can work outside the prison without a POST-approved guard.

“Our workforce has been dwindling,” Allen said.

Council member Reese Browher also wanted to limit where the crews can go in the city, asking they kept out of neighborhoods.

“I’m saying as a father and a husband, we better be careful,” he said.

Council member Paul Wendelken, who voted against the tentative agreement, offered his concern that the city would have to adhere to the contract for an entire year.

“If this becomes more trouble than it’s worth, we’re still on the hook,” he said. “There’s no notice to get out of this. There’s an out in almost every contract we do. If this doesn’t work out, we still pay $46,000. We’re going to take all the financial liability. We haven’t seen how much work an eight-to-12-man crew can do in a week, a month, a quarter or a year.

“If things don’t work out, we’re on the hook for an entire year, and we’ve bought them another guard,” Wendelken said.

The city has an agreement for inmate labor, but those are individual inmates assigned to various city departments. The crew will be dedicated to public works projects.

“We will still get the inmates we get now,” Corbitt said. “This is a separate contract.”

Wendelken wanted to make sure the city’s van was used only to haul the work crew to and from the prison and to the job sites.

“We don’t need to see it going to the grocery store on a Saturday night,” he said.

The county’s new capacity agreement — which brings in $20 per prisoner from the state — normally has been for one year, but the one approved June 23 with the state will expire after Jan. 31, 2016. The county also has added a 60-day termination clause.

Allen said the county will have a recommendation in January to reduce the prison population from 192 to 128.

“It’s our intent to right-size the prison,” he said.