York County Prison officials are looking to renegotiate a per-diem rate the prison charges for housing federal detainees, with 2013 budget projections showing the county could make $2.5 million less than it budgeted for prisoner-related income this year.

The county charges the federal government $83 per day, per prisoner, to house detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Under its contract with ICE, the prison has to be prepared to house as many as 900 ICE prisoners on any given day.

County officials have said they prefer to house as many prisoners as possible, because that's when the prison and its staffing level are most cost-efficient.

For 2013, the county budgeted revenue based on housing an average of 850 prisoners, the actual average through October was 756.

That means that, for the year, the county will probably make only about $23 million instead of the $25.5 million it budgeted.

The shortfall will be covered by other areas of the budget, and the county has lowered its expectations for next year by $2.8 million, down to $22.7 million.

But warden Mary Sabol said during a prison board meeting Tuesday morning that the county is looking to renegotiate and increase the rate it charges the federal government, increasing it to better reflect the prison's cost for keeping 900 beds available for ICE.

She said the 5-year contract the prison holds with ICE through Sept. 30, 2016, allows the parties to renegotiate per diem costs and implement a new rate Oct. 1, 2014.

Sabol said she's still trying to formulate what that increase could be.

Discussion: In the wake of the surprise budget shortfall, President York County Commissioner Steve Chronister asked Sabol whether it's necessary or possible to lower staffing levels at the prison if ICE isn't going to send as many prisoners.

Sabol said the numbers aren't low enough -- at an average of about 750 ICE prisoners -- to decrease staff. That probably wouldn't be considered unless the ICE population dropped to around 300 or 400 people, she said.

Sabol said there's little the county can do if there are simply fewer prisoners ICE can send to York. The federal government can't "guarantee" a certain number of immigration detainees, she said.

However, the per diem rate can and should reflect the costs -- even including building depreciation -- that the prison incurs for earmarking the 900 beds to the federal government, she said. The lower the daily population of prisoners, the higher the per diem cost per federal inmate, Sabol said.

County administrator Chuck Noll said the government has a hard and fast contracting methodology and it's unlikely they'll change it in order to help York County better predict its revenue.

Sabol said the county needs the contract and it's not in a position to "say we're the big dog here and we can make demands."

-- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.