Perry
Perry

Federal detainees are being released from York County to save money because of the sequester, and officials plan to cut costs to cover the money lost from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement prisoners.

The county charges ICE $83 per day per prisoner, or about $24 million per year, and has worked to make room for more of the federal detainees in the hopes of generating more income.

Commissioners announced Wednesday the sequester is beginning to have a negative effect on the county budget and operations; the detainee population as of Wednesday morning was 630, down from about 750 in January, said spokesman Carl Lindquist.

The decrease in detainees will mean a revenue shortfall of up to about $18,260 per day, he said.

Chronister
Chronister

County officials have been told the population fell because of the federal sequester and is unlikely to return to normal until the issue is resolved, he said.

Meanwhile, the county is planning to cut costs by reducing overtime, reducing meal costs and taking other measures at the prison, he said.

When asked if other measures could include cutting prison staff, President County Commissioner Steve Chronister said they could "include everything."

He said the county is reaching out to U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Bob Casey, D-Pa. and Congressman Scott Perry, R-York County, to warn them how "the wrong vote could affect York County and its people."

"There are a lot of maybes and ifs, but we want the federal elected officials to understand how big this is to York County and its taxpayers," he said.

Asked to respond to the county's plight, Perry's office sent a statement sharply criticizing what he labeled the "blatant politicization" of the sequester by the administration of President Barack Obama.

"This is the latest in a series of announcements, released in conjunction with several campaign-style rallies President Obama has held in recent days, attempting to raise public fears regarding the sequester," Perry said in the release.

Perry cited an article in Politico, saying Obama's state-by-state breakdown of the sequester gives a false impression of what will happen when the cuts take effect March 1.

"A closer examination of the detailed reports shows that some of the most controversial things will happen in slow motion - if they happen at all," he said.

He said the House has voted twice to replace the sequester with "common-sense spending reforms that don't threaten national security or the economy and would keep detainees in prison," while Obama "has been busy giving speeches blasting Republicans, while neither he nor the Democrats who run the Senate have offered a specific plan to replace the sequester."

Chronister, a Republican, said the sequester is already affecting York County "to the tune of $18,000 a day."

"I don't know who is to blame, all I know is they have got to get their act together because it effects York County residents," Chronister said. "In the blame game, I'm sure Scott feels strongly ... But we have to put something together to make sure it doesn't happen. Get it done. That's why we put you in office. I don't care what anybody says, when you have a democracy like we have, you do nothing without compromise. You can't just sit back and say, 'No these are my beliefs and I'm not bending.'"

Warden Mary Sabol deferred comment to ICE, where a spokeswoman said fiscal uncertainty resulted in a review of the detainee population "to ensure detention levels stay within ICE's current budget."

"Over the last week, ICE has reviewed several hundreds of cases and placed these individuals in a method of supervision less costly than detention," said Jillian M. Christensen, deputy press secretary.

Christensen said all of the inmates are still in removal proceedings for deportation, and priority for prison detention remains on serious criminal offenders and those who pose a significant threat to public safety.

Vice-president commissioner Doug Hoke said he believes and hopes that the sequestration debate will be resolved and a solution proposed soon. The county relies on housing ICE detainees, and losses could have a deep impact on the county's budget, he said.

Lindquist said county staff is also examining other potential sequestration impact on other operations, including Human Service agencies.

A preliminary review shows federal funding for York County Area Agency on Aging could decline by $53,116, translating to a loss of 15,176 home-delivered meals or 2,871 hours of personal care meant to help keep seniors in their homes, he said.

Waiting lists for services would increase, and the sequestration would also likely "result in the further erosion of funding to local senior centers," he said.

- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.